Sunday, July 8
Woke up at 4AM to be driven to SFO by my Mom, and took an hour-long flight to LAX.
There, I met a few kids from my Birthright group and did the whole El Al security thing before finally hopping on the plane.
There, they had this really weird seat controller.
The flight was pretty horrible seeing as I can't sleep on flights and there was this screaming baby next to me the entire time. Oh well!
Monday, July 9
Eventually reached David Ben-Gurion Airport.
Got all our stuff, got our cell phone, exchanged some cash, and hopped on our trusty air-conditioned tour bus.
Our first stop was Jaffa, where we were given a little orientation.
After being driven around Tel Aviv a bit, we stopped by the Independence Hall, where Israel's independence was won... in a hall. I would have enjoyed it but I was too tired so I fell asleep.
Later in the evening we had this great dinner at Hayekev Restaurant by the beach.
Later, we headed to the Kibbutz Lavi guest house, where we'd stay for two days.
Tuesday, July 10
Woke up in the morning and headed toward the Golan Heights. Drove to Jillabun and took about an hour-long hike, which was quite pretty through and through. Hot, though... made sure to keep hydrated. I brought a Nalgene bottle along and must have gone through about three fills of it.
After the hike, we headed to the Ramat HaGolan Winery, and were given a tour, complete with wine tasting.
Then we stopped by this awesome place up near the border of Syria where I drove an ATV around and other people drove some Jeeps! Total off-road extremeness! We also stopped by this abandoned Syrian officer training building which was somewhat demolished and had some plants growing in it. Forgot to bring my camera!
Afterwards we headed to the city of Tiberias! A fun little city with some nice shoppin' areas. Later in the evening there was a boat ride on the Kineret where everyone got wasted while a few of us danced to musics.
Woo woo! Then back to the Kibbutz.
Wednesday, July 11
The morning was spent in Meron, a place where the Zohar is believed to be buried. Went through this prayer-type place where men and women were separated.
Then it was off to Safed, where I went wandering narrow corridors and got a tour of this candle place with a lot of clever models of stuff made out of wax.
There was also this cute cat, which was probably diseased just like all the other stray cats, but he was cute anyway.
After some wandering, we learned a bit about the Kabbalah, thanks to local artist David Freedman.
That night we headed down south and stayed in Tel Aviv. And I saw Shiranne for the first time in almost a year! We walked along the beaches, had some pizza, and took a taxi back to the hotel! All very good times.
Thursday, July 12
Woke up early to drive to the desert, checking out the Dead Sea along the way.
Our first stop was the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, where we had an especially hot walk through the desert, but finished with a dip in one of the waterfalls.
Then we took a short drive to the Ein Gedi Spa, where we swam in the Dead Sea, covered ourselves in mud, and washed off slightly adequately! The ground was intensely hot and I totally forgot to unpack my flip-flops, oh well.
After that it was off to Massada, where we took a gondola ride up to the top after some hokey video in some touristy place at the base.
Took a small tour around the place, looked at some ancient sites like a pool and a mikvah, looked off into the distance, yelled really loudly out to a series of canyons and got a haunting echoey reply, and eventually walked down an ancient ramp built by the Romans to a place where there were some more cats.
After being picked up by the bus, we headed to Kfar Nokdim, a tourist spot with Bedouin tents and food and the like.
We went on a camel ride to start out with - weren't enough camels for everyone, so we switched off and also rode on donkeys.
Later in the evening, we had this musician tell us about Bedouin culture (but not about how it was bastardized and turned into a tourist attraction) and later in the evening we reached into the barn and secretly fed camels some stuff.
Friday, July 13
We headed to Jerusalem!
Our first stop was Machane Yehuda, a shuk (marketplace) at the center of town.
After a bit of shopping, we checked into the hotel (where we'd be staying for five nights) and got ready for Shabbat.
We started Shabbat at the Old City, the the original walled-off city of Jerusalem. There was this crazy song and dance party thing to commemorate some couple getting engaged.
We then headed to the Western Wall and hung around there for a while, then eventually had Shabbat dinner at the Sephardic Center.
Of course, we didn't take a bus ride back - no vehicles on Shabbat - so a few of us headed back through Jerusalem all the way back to the hotel.
Saturday, July 14
Woke up late.
Headed all the way to the Old City and took a nice, long walking tour.
Later, it was the end of Shabbat back at the Sephardic Center, where we had a nice speaker talk about right vs. wrong and how Jews see it, etc.
Also Shiranne headed over just as Shabbat ended! Walked from the hotel to Ben Yehuda Square where we saw that everyone in the group was having a great time puking on each other.
Sunday, July 15
The morning held for us another speaker talking about Israel's history through Biblical times to Roman rule to the conflict up to the present. Pretty boring!
But then we headed back to the Old City again and took a tour of the Southern Excavation of the Western Wall.
Then in the evening we went to the Mega Event, some extravagant thing that the main Birthright organization puts on to entertain its participants. Lots of singing and dancing and nationalism! I was sort of overwhelmed, but still pretty bored. Not a lot of substance.
Monday, July 16
We started the day off by volunteering at Yad Eliezer, one of many food organizations that feeds the needy. Some people in my group complained for some reason, and we were sort of inefficient in packing the boxes (assembly lines are sort of a foreign concept), but it was worthwhile nevertheless!
We were supposed to go to the Knesset, but it was closed. So instead we went to the nearby Malcha Mall!
Afterwards, we headed to the Israel Museum, where we saw a model of the Old City around the time of the Second Temple, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Later in the day we had a great speaker, Neil Lazarus, talk about the Middle East and infighting between Palestinian and other Arab factions. Didn't really focus on Israel itself at all, which was a welcome change.
That night we ran over to the Old City again and trekked through the Kotel Tunnels, which are this long stretch of underground passage moving along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Pretty rad!
Tuesday, July 17
Today was sort of a "let's feel really sad toward Israel and angry toward everyone else" day.
We started off with a PowerPoint presentation called "Why the Jews?" which basically stated that the entire world hates Jews because they have the moral high ground.
Then we headed off to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Also had a survivor talk to us.
After that it was a walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel at the City of David. A really awesome tunnel I visited again later with Shiranne and Dori - it's pitch black, has water running through it, and you just walk in one direction with no forks for half an hour. Fun!
In the evening we had anothere PowerPoint presentation called World Perfect, talking about how the Greek and Romans were polytheistic and it wasn't until the words of the Torah that the world started practicing a life-valuing monotheistic culture. While I liked that the presentation was somewhat objective in its view of ancient cultures, it was still sort of misleading.
After that presentation, most people were free to go, but they did screen a movie called Obsession, this horrible documentary that ties radical Islam to Nazism and pushes moderate Muslims to shake their fingers at the more radical sect. Pretty stupid.
Wednesday, July 18
On our final day we started off at the Har Herzl Military Cemetary, where Theodor Herzl is buried. Walked around other graves and even saw those who died not more than a year ago in the 2nd Lebanon War.
We took one last walk through the Old City.
And one last shop through Ben Yehuda Square.
Finally, we had a dinner at the Ticho House, said our farewells, and headed off to wherever we were all going!
Shiranne picked me up from the airport and I'm typing now from her room.
The rest of the trip!
We've gone and done some cool things.
I made some linguine fra diavolo, minus any meat. Kosher!
Also made another ganache, which was pretty danged tasty.
I've been hanging out with Shiranne's siblings and parents. We saw Harry Potter 5 at a mall in Tel Aviv, and bought book 7 as well. Been reading it a bit.
Shiranne and I met up with Dori one day and headed to the Old City and walked through the tunnel again. Also headed to the park in the center of town and tried getting a tour of the Knesset, to no avail.
Also went to the beach one morning!
We also went and saw a baseball game run by the newly founded Israeli Baseball League and ate some kosher hamburgers and onion rings!
Headed to Jaffa one evening and had dinner at a nice restaurant with Yasmin, a friend of hers.
Also this weekend we went to Kibbutz Ein Harod Ihud, where Shiranne has a room. Met up with a few more of her friends and hiked around a bit.
And tomorrow's my last day here! We plan on beaching again and then just lounging around the house and playing some video games.
Yep overall this trip has been spectacularly amazing. Once again you should totally check out the Flickr gallery for some more recent pictures from the trip. That is all!
Also check out this panorama I took from the Old City!