More than a week has passed since I've arrived home from Israel so I figure I better share details about my trip while it's still fresh in my mind!
I spent the better part of two weeks in Israel staffing my 5th Birthright trip. For those of you who don't know, Birthright brings young Jewish adults to Israel for a COMPLETELY FREE ten-day trip, where we travel around seeing the country, visiting important historical sites, meeting Israelis, and learning about why the land of Israel is so important to the Jewish people. The hope is that Birthright will connect or reintroduce Judaism into the lives of these young adults so that they can return home to play active roles in the Jewish community, or simply just care more about their own Jewish adult lives,
In addition to having a deep, intense love for the land of Israel, I also wholeheartedly believe in the mission of Birthright, which is why I chose NOT to cancel my trip when the war over there broke out, despite many, many people telling me I was crazy to be visiting a war zone in the Middle East. I believe it is ESSENTIAL to educate people, particularly young people, about Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, and quite honestly, I thought this would also be a valuable learning experience for me - though I have been to Israel nine times before, I have never visited in such a difficult time.
I spent these ten days learning as much as I could about the conflict, talking to Israelis young and old about the war, about their feelings about Palestinians, and about their hopes and dreams for peace. And let me tell you - no matter what you're reading on the news in American media or hearing about back home - ISRAEL WANTS PEACE. This is my blog and while I typically shy away from political posts, I cannot and will not stay silent on this. Israel is in this war to defend herself, her land and her people from TERRORISTS who want nothing more than to wipe the entire country off the face of the planet. In 2014, a mere half century after six million Jews were murdered simply because of their religion, it is my duty and the duty of every single person who believes in freedom of religion and the right to protect yourself from those who wish you harm to raise our voices FOR ISRAEL. I pray that one day, the people who live in Gaza are able to live independent lives without interference from Hamas - that is the only way the two sides will ever be able to coexist next to one another in peace.
Well. This got a little darker than I anticipated. Just goes to show you how strongly I feel about all of this. Now... shall we move on to the fun stuff? Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip :)
Like my last one, this was a CULINARY Birthright trip, meaning that in addition to all the normal fun activities and sightseeing, we also got to do a LOT of fun food-related things. Here's my adorable group - since it was a culinary trip, instead of having bus t-shirts made, we opted for APRONS! How cute is that!?
One of our first stops was to a winery... I don't drink, so I was minding my own business until the owner noticed my empty glass and offered me the opportunity to do a CHOCOLATE tasting instead!!! #itdidntsuck
This was the 4th time I have gotten to work with the same tour guide, my friend Shachar. I love that man so much. We could not be more different - his hobbies include running, hiking, rock climbing, camping, and basically living like a caveman off the land. Despite this, I still love him to pieces and treasure every trip I get to lead with him. Here I am with his adorable daughters - the oldest one is 8, when I met her she was 3!
Whenever the bus stopped at a gas station so we could use the bathroom and get snacks, you better believe I ran for the Bisili and Bamba :)
This made me laugh so hard... I was trying to take this really artsy picture of a religious person walking in front of a beautifully lit window, and at the exact moment I clicked the shutter, a random tourist in an Old Navy t-shirt walked into my shot. Of course.
We spent one afternoon in a Druze village having a cooking lesson! Here is some of the group learning how to make fresh stuffed grape leaves. They were delicious!
Best sandwich of my life. Grilled chicken, preserved lemon spread, toasted almonds, fried eggplant, and Israeli pickles on the best, softest bread ever. UNREAL.
My FAVORITE thing to drink in Israel is their ice caffe - basically a frozen ice blended coffee drink that is unlike anything we have here in the states. I HATE coffee and never ever drink it at home but I cannot get enough of ice caffe... and Aroma Cafe has the best ever!
Alarmingly, I think this stray cat also agrees with my assessment of Aroma's stellar drinks... he would NOT let it go!
Did a little shopping of course... picked up this gorgeous iron welded heart bowl, and this beautiful diamond/stone bracelet...
This was about as close as I was getting to the camels this trip. I've ridden them many a time before and let me just say the phrase "camel toe" exists for a reason. No thanks.
Some beautiful Israeli street art!
Spent the afternoon at Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem's famous outdoor street market. Let me tell y'all, the amount of food there is INSANE. Some of my favorites, clockwise from top left: fresh fruit (the figs are out of this world), a gorgeous hot pink dragonfruit, the world's BEST chocolate rugalah from Marzipan, and an absolute shit-ton of bin candy :)
Ironically, I don't have pictures from two of my favorite activities... diving into the waterfall at Ein Gedi National Park after a long, hot hike and spending the afternoon swimming in the beautiful ocean at Netanya Beach (right outside Tel Aviv). It was so, so unbelievably hot in Israel the entire time that as soon as I had the opportunity to jump into any body of water, I took it!!! How beautiful and clear is the water?
Last but not least, here's my favorite picture from the trip - a shot of Jerusalem's sparkling lights on the hilltop on Shabbat right before sunset. It was incredibly beautiful and really made me feel so grateful for being there, in Israel, even during the conflict, because it reminded me why I love that country so much and how I will always consider it my home.
Israel... I miss you already. I'm praying for your safety and for peace always!