I was lucky enough to be a part of a program my senior year in high school that took me to Israel for 6 days. My whole senior year I was part of a group of Americans who would talk to Israeli students in high school and for one week they came to Boca, and later ten of us were taken to Israel.
It was an incredible experience and the beginning of my love affair with Israel. Boca Raton’s sister city is Kiryat Bialik and we were paired with different families when we came. Even though I was in Israel last summer on Birthright, I was not able to extend my time, and could not see my friends from Kiryat Bialik. I made it a point this trip that I would have free time so I could visit all of my friends and not get stressed about meeting up with them while on my program. Thursday evening I took the train to Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa. I was warned ahead of time that taking the train Thursdays is one of the busiest times of the week because many of the soldiers go home that night for their day off. My first part of the train wasn’t so packed, even though I was in the alleyway I had plenty of room to stand with my suitcase. Yes, stand. When I transferred, I figured it would be the same and I would still have plenty of room. When the train arrived, the doors opened to show the alleyway PACKED! I thought there is no way I am getting on! Twenty people in front of me looked frustrated but they slowly got on. When I was the last person standing on the platform, I figured I would get the next train. The people standing closest to the door looked at me, looked at my suitcase, grabbed the handles, and pulled me in. This was another example of the Israeli sabra that I know and love; when it comes down to it they are always going to help out their fellow achim (brothers and sisters). After a very crowded 45 minute ride, I finally arrived. My friend picked me up and I told him I had heard about a Christmas and Hanukkah festival in Haifa. We met up with his friends and walked on a cool street they had closed off. It was just like any festival for holidays in America, with bands performing, people on stilts (dressed as Santa) and booths with food. I was very excited to see the street lined with Christmas trees and menorahs, since I hadn’t seen any trees in Israel.
We watched a group perform, that my friend called clowns. I said they didn’t look like clowns, they’re just wearing silly hats. Later in the night they sang their songs and played their instruments while doing some circus movements and standing on top of each other. My friend proved his point, that they were in fact clowns. We got some crepes on the street and I got mine with white nutella, something I didn’t even know existed! If I find some while at a supermarket here, I will be sure to bring some back.
The next morning my friend who I stayed with my first time in Israel picked us up and wanted to show me some great hummus! Where did we go? The gas station! Connected to the convenience area (which are so much better than in America) was a little restaurant that makes hummus, pita, and many other items. She stopped at another market to pick up sufganyot and turned a few items in the fridge into a delicious lunch!
After watching some E! news and explaining who Kim Kardashian was, we headed out to Akko. I visited Akko my first time in Israel and was excited to see it again. Arabs and Jews live together in Akko and is one of the longest lived in cities in Israel. Centuries ago it was under Roman, Greek, Ottoman, and later British rule. After walking up the ancient stairs we proceeded into the shuk, this one an Arab market. It was getting close to Friday night so luckily it wasn’t as crowded as it would have been just hours before. There was everything from clothes to dried fruit, and even fish! Bleh
These guys were so stinky! We walked out and got to the port, which was full of boats, and even a tour boat. It was so rocky from the wind it was funny watching this boat go out and listen to their Arabic music while nearly getting knocked over. We waited until I saw a guy catch a fish, and we were on our way.
That night we had another delicious homemade dinner. Those meals are few and far between now for the remainder of my trip, so I treasured it greatly! By 11 o’clock we had an idea of where we wanted to go. Either a dance bar or a dance club. I wanted to find out what the difference was and my friend said at the bars you get to sit. I didn’t understand how you could dance if you were sitting, but I would find out! After almost not getting in for my third time for not being 24, we got into a dance bar, only to find occupied seats! This would not do, so we left to another place. By 1 am we were finally walking into Discoteque (which I called discoteca all night and the Israelis thought was very funny). They played mostly American music so I had a great time. Around 2 am the DJ said something about being Hanukkah and time to party, and out walked guys carrying boxes of sufganyot. Only in Israel!
We woke up at my usual rising time in Israel of 1 pm and went out to another shuk. It was very windy so I quickly got 2 pairs of earrings for 20 skeks, which is about $7-score! We drove into Haifa and looked at the view of the sea from the mountain. It was so beautiful and my friend and her boyfriend pointed out their army base, the navy ships, and even a crazy windsurfer!! Fifteen minutes outside was enough, and we saw the rest of Haifa through the car windows. Five minutes later it started to rain-which is very exciting in Israel- so we drove back home.
The rest of the night we hung out and went to the Kiryon mall, literally behind my friend’s house. I got some nice Israeli soaps that I was dying to buy and looked in some other stores. Right now I’m at my other friend’s house until I depart for Jerusalem, where I will be spending the majority of my time for the remainder of my trip. His mom is making rice and schnitzel, probably my last meal at someone’s home, so I will certainly enjoy every bite! I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah!!