Adventures at home, abroad, and online

Category: Birthright and Beyond Page 3 of 4

Day 8 – Bedouin Camp


Masada sunrise

Climbed Masada for sunrise, which was useful both for the kitsch factor and to preempt the blazing sun. Jared and I hiked quickly to beat the crowd to the top and enjoy the silence, interrupted only by our heaving breath. The climb was maybe a mile, but almost 500 vertical meters. Sunrise was gorgeous, and I got some excellent pictures. I toured the site alone, and then again with the rest of the group.


Dead Sexy at the Dead Sea

We hiked down, and then drove to the fresh springs at Ein Gedi. The cool water counted both as my bath of the day, and the washing of my clothes. There was a good natured algae fight, with only a few civilian casualties. Then to the Dead Sea, where we bought the healing black mud and slathered it on. Jared and I did swamp monster impressions, and we floated superman style in the warm saline sea. Despite warnings that the brine would sting any open wounds, my cuts didn’t hurt too much.


Then to the Bedouin tenting experience, which was as much minstrel show as cultural interaction. We discussed various military ethical situations with our soldiers, which upset Jared and Kali. Then we were thrown into a boot camp simulation, where we learned the joys of doing pushups on brokn glass and performing manual labor. We decompressed by drinking wine from the bottle under the stars and throwing rocks at the darkness.

Day 7- Shabbat

Slept until noon, mercifully. Spent most of the day lounging around, as it was too hot to take a tour of the Hasidic community. Then we drove through the Negev to Masada, where it was 45C at night. To bed at 11, knowing we have to wake up at 4.

Day 6 – Jerusalem


I dig her

Today we went on an archaeology dig and fully embraced our Indiana Jones l participated in a real dig, excavating 2,000 year old trash piles. I found bits of animal bone, pottery and charred remains of cooking fires. Exciting stuff, and everyone (male and female) fell in love with the young guide.


Our soldiers

We were joined at lunch by six young soldiers, each younger than I am. They’re all predictably beautiful, toned by their service to their country. We broached political discussions carefully, but they were willing to talk about their experience. While I appreciate the democratic effect of universal conscription, I’m not sure it helps toward building a lasting peace. Each soldier we met was convinced that the enemy want to destroy us; which makes sense given their experience, but is not representative of the broader truth.


Challah back

We shopped both at a mall, and also at a real market in the city. Roughly half the group each enjoyed one experience and found the other intolerable. I loved the crowd at the market, surrounded by language and culture we didn’t get while driving on the bus, isolated from the community. And clicheed pictures abound.

Then we had a Shabbat service, which was inclusive of everyone’s level of Jewish knowledge. Oneg Shabbat was on the roof, celebrating the view and fresh air until the wee hours. Thank the Lord we don’t have to wake up tomorrow at 6.

Day 5 – Jerusalem

Today was emotionally exhausting. After breakfast, we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. It affected me more than the US Memorial, although that could be due to the seriousness of the group dynamic. The Hall of Names was particularly powerful; a circular room dedicated to the remembrance of the lives of the victims, with a large empty section for those who will never be found. The architecture was a little much, with the exhibit hall encased underground in concrete but opening on an expansive view of Jerusalem. Others found it moving, but I thought it bordered on cliche. Also, the exhibits on the hardship of life in the ghetto behind imposing walls, failed to acknowledge that Israel is currently building to enclose other communities.


Then we went to Mt Herzl, the military cemetery and a memorial to the founder of Zionism. Ivtak showed us the grave of his friend, an American to who rushed back to Israel at the start of the Second Lebanon War. He was killed after paratrooping behind lines and searching houses for Katyushas. After the heavy day, we went to a bar that was rented out for us. Brandy taught me more about the Napoleonic code than I’ll ever need to know, and Craig pissed in a drain. Good times.

Day 4 – Jerusalem

Today at breakfast we pondered the nature of faux coffee (Nescafe) that refuses to dissolve in water. I proposed soap to bridge the polar and non-polar natures of the two substances, but Kali was not amused. She can be a little grouchy before she gets her fix.


Strong city walls

We toured the City of David, which is used as archaeological proof for the existence of a Jewish state. While there is no direct evidence that there was a king named David at the time in question, there were clearly Jews living in the city at about the time described by the Bible. We walked through a water tunnel, designed by the Jebecites, from the fortified city to a hidden spring beyond the walls.


Holy sights

After an excellent lunch along the Cardo, the old Roman shopping street, that remains remarkably unchanged, we went to the Western Wall. This was more powerful for me than I expected, to see something so old that was clearly “mine” was a different experience than other famous ruins. Of course, the destruction of the neighborhood that used to be against the wall, after Israeli paratroopers took it back in 1967, tempered the experience slightly. It is incredible that the Jewish and Muslim holy sites are literally right on top of each other, making any attempt to draw rational borders an exercise in futility. Still, it was awesome to see those huge stones unmoved by time and conflict.


Rooftop partay

We had another evening activity, where we discussed our experiences of antisemitism. I had none to share, but it was moving to hear those of others who grew up in less affluent, or more ignorant, parts of the country and world. The group was surprisingly good about understanding antisemitism as just one part of all racism, which must be opposed in all forms. Then we watched a documentary about the flight of Israeli F-15s over Auschwitz, which was almost Brucknerian in its homage to military power. Hard to reconcile Top Gun and Vad Yashem, but we dealt by having a party on our rooftop deck.

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