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A new beginning

June 24, 2011

I didn’t know what to expect as I boarded the El AL plane that would take me on a sixteen hour journey to the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel.  The last time I had been outside of North America was over four years ago.  That trip was a blast as you would have to try really hard to have a bad time in Italy and Amsterdam.  However, that was during college and I was less mature in those (pre 21 years).  At least 50% of the time that my mother and I have conversed over the last five plus years, there was always the mention of Birthright.  She went to Israel for her fiftieth birthday a couple years back, and ever since has been adamant on my brother and I taking advantage of a free trip to Israel.  Excuses always raced through my mind regarding safety issues.  All that violence always going on in the middle east, gave me this vivid depiction of Israel being a shooting range for bombs.  On another note, I never really had any interest in going to Israel.  For some reason I would always correlate Israel to my miserable years of being forced to go to Sunday and Hebrew school.  Back then, the history of Israel was jammed down our ten year old throats to the point of insanity.  I cared more about travel ice hockey then sitting through something that made regular school a vacation.

2011 rolled around and I made a vow to myself that I was going to be a lot more open minded in the years to come.  A great start to this was signing up for Birthright a few months ago.  As the trip drew closer I began to ask a lot of my friends that went on other Birthright trips what to expect.  They all had different answers for me, but overall this seemed like a win win situation for me.  A free trip to a country I have never been, and a technology break for ten days?  Feeling burnt out and needing a change, I was eager to head to Israel.

I am still digesting the last couple weeks of my life.  Meeting over forty individuals who I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know.  Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of the guys and girls on my trip remain close friends of mine for a very long time.  We had a great group, and everybody really respected one another and got along.  The people make the trip, and the culmination of a great group of young adults, a couple eccentric and friendly group leaders, and the best tour guide I have ever and probably will ever have (Guy Yosef), I couldn’t have fathomed a better trip.  I am not going to lie, throughout the trip there were numerous in times in which I became irritated and frustrated.  Hot days, lots of historical lectures, some iffy food.  Nothing is perfect, and the positives outweighed the negatives by a long shot.

Hiking up the Masada at sunrise was quite possibly the coolest experience thus far in my life.   We all awoke at 4am after spending the night in the middle of the desert in a Bedouin tent.  Which in itself was unbelievable.  After a three hour drive, we were greeted by the Bedouins (a desert-dwelling Arab group).

Guests are ritually incorporated into their hosts’ households because in case of armed conflict, guests must be protected as if they were family members. When guests arrive, they are welcomed and a rug is immediately spread out and they will first be served sweet tea in small glasses. When the guests are honoured, respected and nourished and it is time for the main ritual: The preparation of fresh cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee. The beans are roasted and then pounded in a mortar. A large wooden coffee-grinder is not only used but also played by the Bedouins.

A long beaked brass coffee pot is filled with water and the grounded coffee mixed with cardamom seeds is poured into it. The mixture is brought to boil 3 times and then it is left to settle fo a few minutes. It is ritually served in tiny, egg shaped china cups (‘Feenghal’) and the cups are usually half full:

‘Al Heif’: The first cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the Bedouin host to let the guest feel safe.

‘Al Keif’: The second cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the guest himself.

‘Al Dheif’ (The cup of the guest) is the third cup of coffee to be poured. It is drunk by the guest.

 

This group of people were extremely friendly and generous, and we all had a great time riding camels, eating a great homecooked meal with our hands, and rising at 4am to hot tea and cookies to give us energy for the hike up the Masada.  We woke up so early so we could catch the sunrise at the top of the mountain.  This was by far the most spectacular vision that my eyes have ever laid eyes on.  My favorite part of the Masada was when our entire group yelled down the mountain in unity and heard our own echoes.  Guy Yosef (our tour guide) explained to us how important it is to be united.  If only one of us yelled down the Masada there would be no echo.  This was a great learning experience, and one that I will never forget.

After hiking down the Masada we ventured out to the Dead Sea.  Floating around and physically being incapable of sinking was awesome.  I had cut myself the night before throwing around the frisbee, and this heavily salted body of water cleansed my wounds with ease.  Jordan was in clear view on the other side of the sea, and it was fascinating to learn that Israel and Jordan were able to create peace negotiations revolving around the Dead Sea resources.

Israel is only the size of New Jersey, but after traveling around the country for the last ten days, it seems a lot larger.  We were literally non stop on the go for the full ten days.  Sleep was an afterthought for the most part, because even when we had free time at night we usually took advantage of that by getting some drinks and/or just hanging out and reflecting on the trip.  I don’t think I have ever done that much in a ten day span in my lifetime.

Overall, my most memorable experience will be the relationships that I built with a few of the Israeli soldiers that joined us on our trip for a few days.  I had never met an Israeli soldier prior to the trip, and I really didn’t know what to expect.  They were the most friendly, and open-minded people I have ever met in my life.  Listened to the same music, had similar hobbies, and great senses of humor, Americans are very similar.  Without saying it, they really taught me valuable lessons about life and not taking things for granted.  Their actions all speak volumes, and the soldier that I became closest with, Sagiv ended up giving me his Air Force badge right before I left Israel.  On the back of it he wrote “think positive every day” and signed his name.  I am rarely one to tear up, but that really got to me.

I am a go getter by nature, but the trip to Israel made me realize how much more I can and will do with my life.  I am excited to begin the next chapter after having such a life changing experience in Israel.  Its time to really live life the right way.  Thank you to everybody who was on Kesher 210 in helping make a trip of a lifetime!

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