Our day’s visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, was a very emotional experience for everyone. We left that building with more people crying than not.
And sadly, it was followed by yet another emotional experience – parting ways with our new soldier friends, who finally had to say goodbye and report back to their units for work.
I pretty much blew through the events of this trip so it’s difficult to really convey how much comradery we developed over the preceding days, but just take my word for it when I say that it was a very emotional goodbye. Even Liat and Natalia, the two armed escorts who participate on Birthright trips week after week, said they’ve never felt companionship with a group quite like ours – they’ve never even maintained contact after a tour ended, yet just last night Mike, Sammy, and Robbie stayed in Natalia’s home on a Kibbutz outside of Jerusalem.
That last bus ride with the soldiers was fun, but sad.
The group was now back on its own, and our next stop was Kibbutz Afik in the North. We were told that we’d be spending four nights at this location, relieving news after having to pick up our stuff and move every single morning since arriving in Israel.
It was now Passover.
Man, when the guidebooks say that things in Israel shut down for Passover they aren’t kidding – this is one country that takes its national holidays seriously. Even the supermarkets that do remain open actually covor the shelves that contain any non-koscher products. Jewish or not, there’ll be no beer, no redbull, and no leavened bread during Passover – just matzah, hummus, gefilte fish, wine, and water.
After a standard evening on the Kibbutz of socializing amongst ourselves, we woke up early for a daytrip to the what was probably my favorite destination thus far: the mountain town of Tzfat, birthplace of the mystic Kaballah.
Tzfat, like Jerusalem, is one of those places that has a very tangible spiritual feeling in the air. It’s difficult to describe exactly, but there’s just…something about it. And with a synagogue on every corner, interesting and ancient architecture, and everyone dressed in orthodox attire, Tzfat was truly a stunning city, both visually and otherwise. I probably could’ve spent a week there with my D40 without ever getting bored.
After roaming around and taking photos for the better part of the day (I sort of escaped from the group for a bit while they were doing some souvenir shopping), we saddled up and headed to the famous Jordan River for a bit of kayaking…
…Although a more accurate description than “Kayaking the Jordan River” might be “Leisurely relaxing down the Jordan Stream.”
Finally, we completed the day by heading North for a glimpse over the border into Syria.
That night was the start of our trip’s second and final Shabbat. Unlike our first Shabbat on our arrival day, this was a much-needed rest. But that doesn’t mean we turned in early. After spending a couple hours passing around a hookah in one of the Kibbutz’ grassy fields, I brought out my laptop with some music…at which point all the girls jumped up and started dancing…resulting in some locals coming over to invite everyone to their nearby houseparty.
The following day there was only one organized activity: a nature hike which both my roomate and I slept all the way through. I took full advantage of that day to recharge – napping, beginning to sort pictures, replying to e-mails, relaxing in the sun, and playing a bit of Capture the Flag with the others.
Then it was time for our first Passover Seder in Israel. We held our own private services in the cafeteria of the Kibbutz.
You know, even though I’m not at all religious, after reflecting on the Seder with some of the more religious trip participants I can understand why they were dissappointed. Given the unique opportunity to spend such an important holiday in the “Jewish Homeland,” it would’ve been nice to do something a bit more official-feeling than an informal dinner amongst ourselves. What “official” means I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that particular evening felt like we might as well have just been at a friend’s house back in the US.
The next day consisted of a number of activities in-and-around the Kibbutz, such as…
…A nature hike…
…An entomology lesson…
…A few nice photo-ops…
…And something called “Outdoor Training,” a pretty interesting collection of puzzles and games that we had to solve together as a group. For instance, in the challenge shown here we had to remove three balls from a roped-off area without touching the ground, by leaving and entering the area only once, and leaving from the same side we entered.
The guide said that we completed the challenges faster and more efficiently than anyone he’s ever seen. Way to go, team!
As I sit here writing and trying to recall not even details, but simply major events, of the past few weeks of travel, I realize how much I’m overlooking. For example, on one of our cross-country bus rides we were directed to look out the window. “You see that hill out there? That’s Armageddon. The site that the Bible predicted as the end of the world – the last battle that marks the destruction of all mankind.”
There’s so much history in this little country it’s really just ridiculous.