On Tuesday morning around 10:00 a.m. I arrived with my parents at the Newark Airport. When I walked through the door to the El Al check-in area I looked down and saw a small group of people sitting in a circle. Take a big guess who they were! One of the first people I saw when I walked in is now sitting across from me on her bed because we are roommates. She is from California, and my program is made up of kids literally from every area of the United States. That small group I saw on Tuesday morning has now turned into a larger group of 36 people.
I have no complaints about the flight. It was much better than my previous flight, which was from Boston and about 2 hours longer. It also consisted of me wedged between two girls who I didn’t really speak with and my entertainment was only a book and an iPod.
When we landed in Tel Aviv we got our luggage and made our way to the Jewish Federation office in Jerusalem. I took off in Newark at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday and landed in Israel at 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday, so as you can imagine I did not get much sleep. To my body it was 12:00 a.m., but to the leaders of my program it was a brand new day and they gave us absolutely no time to rest. Though I was exhausted, I carried more luggage than I ever thought I could handle, had more tiring events in between, and when I finally could get my rest it was spent in a Bedouin tent with just a sleeping bag and the ground below me. Regardless, this whole experience was still so amazing.
When we woke up the next morning at 5:30 a.m. (I know, I really had such a chance to catch up on my sleep) we went on a hike in the Judean desert. Due to the very intense heat in Israel (this is the hottest it has been in 60 years!) we had to be up hiking early. This hike was unlike one I had ever done before, but its intention was a success. It was a downhill hike where we had to go down ladders and ropes. Some areas were a bit scary for some, but that was the point. We all helped each other get down the mountain and toward the Dead Sea.
After being sweaty and tired after spending our first day in the Israeli heat we went to the Dead Sea to “cool” off. And by cooling off I mean the sea felt like a Jacuzzi. Fortunately there is also a pool a few feet up from the sea that we all swam in and actually became refreshed. Afterwards we made our way to a youth hostel. Here we had some programs where we worked on getting to know each other better.
There was an activity there where we had to write a letter to ourselves, or a list of things that we’d like to accomplish during these next ten months. We then sealed the envelope and will open it during the final ceremony in June. I am very interested in reading that list again and seeing if I was able to accomplish everything.
The next morning we woke up and went on another hike through En Gedi. This hike was more challenging than the last one, but in my opinion a lot more enjoyable. The hike was through cliffs and in streams of water that resulted in us getting into our bathing suits and swimming in a stream with a waterfall. The waterfall to me is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, it is a little gem in this world that I wish I could share with everyone I love.
After the hike we got our dirty selves onto the bus and rode to Jerusalem to get some lunch. We stopped at a mall and it was here I was able to have my first real, big cup of coffee! It was from Aroma and I definitely gained some endorphins while drinking it. Every time you get a coffee there they give you a little chocolate on top, which I think is the loveliest addition.
Afterwards we drove to a Kibbutz outside of Jerusalem where we spent our first Shabbat. I also got to have the most amazing shower. Let’s know that I, along with everyone else, was always dirtier this week than clean. It sure was a great way for us to get close really fast. Once showered we all put on dressy clothes and had a very casual Friday night service. Then we had a tasty dinner in the Kibbutz dining hall and shared in some games and conversation afterwards.
On Shabbat we had a chance to relax at the Kibbutz and finally catch up on our sleep. We had participated in some activities during the day to get to know each other better. One I particularly liked was called the Beit Café and they would bring over different foods with papers of questions written on them. The four or five people I was sitting with all answered the questions and we got to know each other on a bit of a more personal level.
After dinner we went into Jerusalem for our first night out on the town. There was a rally for Gilad Shalit who was captured by Hamas in 2006 and is still held captive by them. That night was his birthday, and by the Prime Ministers house in Jerusalem there was a rally held for Israeli’s to come together and support his family and try to get him out of captivity. This was a very intense moment, and every Israeli is affected by it because Gilad could have been any of their siblings or child. The rally was entirely in Hebrew but at one point they lit candles and sang the Hatikvah. As soon as everyone started singing I fell into a zone, and all my other thoughts completely disappeared. I realized for the first time where I was in the world and how much of an honor it was to be sharing in that moment with the other Israelis.
At this point I think my entry is a bit long. I would like to break them up by days (want to also give more detail) so I am going to end this one for now. Tonight I am headed to my friends’ aunt and uncles house and hope to catch you up on my time here since Saturday night. So much has already happened! I love all of you and hope all is well. More entries to come by the end of tonight I promise.
P.S. I haven’t really proofread this but I wanted to get an entry out quick since I know you guys are anxious (thanks for wanting to hear about this!) Anyway, I promise my entries will be clearer and more detailed later. Also–pictures will be added, woo wee!!