I’m back! Back from three of the best weeks of my life, living out of a suitcase, staying in hostels, speaking Hebrew to anyone who would listen, and falling in love with the most fantastic group of L.A. Jews on earth in the most amazing country on earth - ISRAEL!
Just a few weeks ago, I nervously headed to the airport with (way too many) suitcases in hand, not knowing what to expect. I have been to Israel before, but never as a participant on this type of trip. Everyone I know has always told me what an unbelievable time they had on Birthright, and I wanted my own trip to be just as great.
I worried for nothing. Unbelievable does not even begin to describe it!
For 12 days, our group of forty young Jewish adults from Los Angeles toured Israel from top to bottom, accompanied by our trusty guide Shachar and 8 young Israelis. We did it all - the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights. We laid on the beach in Tel Aviv and climbed Masada at sunrise (you can imagine how much I enjoyed hiking in the middle of the night). We danced with Holocaust survivors and played with Arab kids at their school. We paid our respects at Har Herzl and Yad Vashem and ate our way through every shuk we could find. We learned and laughed and asked questions and soaked up everything we could while we were there.
There is no possible way to sum up the trip so that all the amazingness can be explained. Instead, I thought I’d try to do it justice by including a little Top Ten list of the things I’ll never forget about Birthright Winter 2010 with Bus 15. Here we go!
10. The people - I’m starting with this one right off the bat, because this trip would have been NOTHING without them. I could not love a group of people more than our bus, and I feel lucky beyond belief that we all ended up together. Everyone meshed perfectly and got along so well - I really feel like I have 47 new best friends. The amount of fun we managed to cram into 12 days blows my mind - front of the bus shenanigans with Ashley, Ashley, Cara, and Charity, or watching Ross tumble headfirst inside the side of Masada and be brave enough to continue up with blood gushing from his head, or being miserable together in the goddamn Bedouin tent with Danielle and Michelle, or posing for crazy pictures with Alex.... I wish I could name every single person and show you their picture and tell you how special they are, but I know I’d lose all my readers :) I’ll just say that I know most of these people will be my friends for a long, long time.
9. The Israelis - technically, they count as part of #10. But these eight people are so special to me that they deserve their own number. I have always been jealous of people who talk about their family or their friends in Israel - while I know lots of people who live in Israel, they’re virtually all Americans who have made aliyah and now live there. Now, I can proudly say that I have my own friends in Israel - wonderful, generous, intelligent, incredibly kind friends who made our trip absolutely incredible. From driving me to Haifa (Guy) to planning fantastic nights out (Gal) to regular old girl talk and makeovers (Talya) to opening her home to me on Shabbat and introducing me to her family (Yael), the Israelis made an impact on me that I will never, ever forget. I can’t wait to see them all when I come back in a few months.
8. Our madrichim (counselors) - how can I talk about this trip without mentioning my Chech? I was lucky enough to go on a trip staffed by my dear friend Jessie Sunday, who I met long ago when we both started working at the Fed. Now, two years later, we both no longer work there, but have made a connection and a friendship that I know will last forever. She is truly one of my favorite people, in addition to being one of the only people I know who can match me in energy, volume, and general insanity. She is my beloved Chech and was a fabulous leader for our group. Our group was also lucky enough to be led by a new pal of mine, Mr. Matthew Weiner. I instantly loved Matt upon meeting him - he looks EXACTLY like Jonah Hill, who may or may not be number one on the list of celebrities I am desperately in love with. In addition to being adorable and squeezable, Matt is also hilarious and has the exact same sense of humor as I do. We never stopped laughing together and I can’t wait to hang out with him more in LA, “drinking in bars and making fun of people.” His words, not mine.
7. Speaking Hebrew - newsflash to people who’ve known me my entire life and never knew this - I CAN SPEAK HEBREW! I know, I was shocked too. All jokes aside, I am incredibly proud of myself -I had no idea how much Hebrew I actually knew until this trip. Now I can say that I am almost fluent - I had no problems getting around and talking to people, and made it a point to learn more words every single day. If you need to know how to say napkin or trashcan, I’m your girl! (And a very special shoutout to our cab driver in Tel Aviv, Mr. Aviv Lebanon, to whom I drunkenly listed every single word I knew in Hebrew, and who proposed to me at the conclusion of our ride together. Just because I didn't say yes, doesn't mean I don't love you.)
6. Greene Bean - it was very special for me to be able to share these few weeks with the one and only Jennifer Leigh Greene. I first started talking about doing this years ago -- I thought it would be a great way for us to meet new people in LA, especially considering Greene is still new here, having only moved here a year and a half ago. Part of me still can’t believe we already went and came back! I have always told her how much I love Israel, and I LOVED being able to show her the places I’ve been, the restaurants I love, and how fantastic Israel and Israelis can be. I’m so glad we were able to do this together.
5. Our nights out (AKA Galapalooza) - basically, those freaking Israelis know how to party. Any night that includes three straight hours of dancing (including to some bizarre American songs, including “We Are The Champions” and the theme from Cops) and straight vodka shots is A-OK in my book - and we did it like five times! It was so fun being able to go out in a huge group - it felt like college all over again, plus we were always outfitted in lovely light up bracelets and hair accessories, bar mitzvah style, thanks to our Israeli friend Gal, who never came to a bar without a bag of props and should seriously look into a job as a cruise director. If Israel outlaws smoking in clubs (my clothes REEKED), I’m moving there.
4. Our nights in - yes, our nights out on the town were crazy and fun. But I have always said that it’s not where you are but who you’re with that matters, and I will never forget our quiet(er) nights in, just hanging out in the halls of the hostels or outside on the kibbutz. Playing card games and smoking hookah while people played guitar and sang - I felt like I was at Jewish summer camp. And for someone who never even WENT to Jewish summer camp.... that was very special. :)
3. The food - no Top 10 list of Jordan Silverman’s would be complete without mentioning food. Everything I eat in Israel is DELICIOUS, and this trip was no exception. I tasted the best rugalach in the world (from Marzipan), FINALLY tried Israeli sushi (it was good!), now have a favorite Israeli snack food (chocolate filled Bamba), found a new amazing place in Jerusalem (Foccacia Bar - not kosher but the coconut chicken noodles are out of this world), and ate more schnitzel, schwarma, and falafel than I can even imagine. And don’t get me started on the hummus! (ADDENDUM: how could I forget to talk about JOY!? After almost four years of knowing Erez and hearing the story about Anna and Erez meeting in his family's restaurant, Joy, in Israel, Greene and I finally got to see and try it for ourselves. It was fantastic - the food was amazing and the service was wonderful - PLUS, Big E hooked us up with a delish bottle of wine and some appetizers. TODAH RABAH :) I highly recommend it if you are ever in need of a kosher steakhouse in Jerusalem!)
2. Shachar - our guide, Shachar, may be one of the smartest and most patient people I have ever met. Any question we had, no matter how retarded (and let’s face it, some of us ask realllllly retarded questions), he answered with a smile on his face. He even found it funny when we resorted to playing middle school games like MASH on the bus and informed him he was now married to one of us. And as a bonus, his baby was GORGEOUS and loved me. I miss him already!
So what’s the number one thing I’ll never forget about our trip? :)
1. The camels - We may be the ONLY group in the history of Birthright to
NOT ride the camels. The only way this can possibly be remedied is by all of us going back to Israel, as soon as possible!!!!
All in all, it was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m so sad to be back, but so happy that all my new friends live just a few minutes away from me. Last night, I hosted our first reunion at my apartment - a Shabbat dinner -- and I am happy to report that everyone was just as fabulous and we had just as much fun here in Brentwood as we did in the holy land!
I leave you with this quote, which perfectly sums up how I feel about Israel:
“My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west.” - Yehuda Halevi
I can’t wait to go back.