It is officially 2012 and we are all still here-shocking? Not so much. So after much debate we decided to stay in Jerusalem so we could enjoy celebrating New Year’s Eve or “Sylvester” as it is called in Israel, as long as we could since the next morning was going to an early rise.
We left the hotel to go back to King’s and it was packed with more Birthright groups, but this time from Indiana. It was funny seeing all of these people I would possibly know at school, but I guess there are lots of different ways our lives could have gone, instead of how they do. We were planning on leaving King’s by 11:15so that we could go to the Homant to bring in the new year. About 11 pm the lights and music turned off and as per usual fun events I attend, like in Gainseville over the summer, the whole block had a power outage. We walked back to the hotel to get a cab and we were on our way. When we arrived the line out the door was extremely long and we weren’t sure if we could get in. When 11:59 came and we were still outside we sucked it up and had a countdown of our own. Five minutes later we were in the club. We walked in to find it was three levels with creative décor, Christmas theme of course, and extensive lights and speakers. We danced until 2:30 am and luckily, since people in Israel don’t go out until midnight, they did a countdown at 1 am. It was an incredible night and I’m happy we decided to stay in Jerusalem.
Sunday morning we had to LEAVE the hotel at 7:15 am. Not wake up-leave. So at 6:40 am we prepared for a long first day of the year. Our first stop was to Project Leket, a farm owned by a philanthropist so people can pick fruit to give to the hungry. We got a whole row of Clementine trees and got over an hour to pick as much (and eat as much) as we could. My friend and I filled two cartons, and the whole group filled the giant box with thousands of clementines that will be distributed to thousands of hungry people across the country.
Our next stop was Sderot, the city that borders the Gaza Strip. Gaza is a Hamas ruled Palestinian territory, which does not fare well for anyone in surrounding areas (or within Gaza) to say the least. Sderot has had thousands of Kasam rockets fired in to the city for the past decade. We started off at the police station to see some of the many rockets that have entered into the city and where the different rockets have been shot from, some as far as Iran. Next we went to a playground that children in the city, like normal children play in. Unlike normal children, the threat of rockets makes everyone’s lives in Sderot extremely different; when a siren goes off that a rocket is coming, you have 15 seconds to seek shelter. If a siren goes off on the playground, kids must run to a bomb shelter, which looks like a caterpillar until it is safe to come out. We drove by a school and a large protective shield covers a school, but only grades 1-3. The rest of the school has to run for shelter. It has cost the government about $500 million to provide the whole city and each individual home with a bomb shelter. The last spot we went to was the top of a hill overlooking Gaza. Only half a mile away is a place that wishes Israel did not exist. Being in Sderot was the most eye opening experience because you see a regular city that lives under irregular circumstances every moment. All I could think about was how the US would react if Mexico was firing rockets into California. What would America do?
After Sderot we traveled twenty minutes away to Nitzan, where former residents of Gush Katif live. Gush Katif was a Jewish community in Gaza that was forcibly removed. They had been moved to a temporary home that the extremely former New Yorker Rachel described as a “sewer village”. After hearing about the new living conditions we got to play with children that were born in the temporary home. After a tae-kwando and dance performance, we joined the children in dancing and later gave them gifts brought from America. They were so excited to receive their stickers, paint sets, and puzzles. Even though we had to wake up very early, it was a great way to start off the year by doing something great for different communities in Israel.
Monday we went into the West Bank to visit the city of Hevron, a highly disputed city. All around the city are Israeli soldiers looking out for any suspicious activity. Hevron is the city where Abraham, Sara, and other matriarchs and patriarchs are buried. The tombs are located in the Machpelah which is divided into sections for Jews and Muslims. At the time we were there it was the Muslim call to prayer, so it was very interesting watching all of these religious Jewish people come to see forefathers while a Muslim prayer was on the loud speaker. Only in Israel.
After leaving the tundra of Hevron (it was freezing and rainy) we went back to Jerusalem for a free night.
We decided to go to Tel-Aviv, since it is only a 45 minute drive-less than Boca to Miami. We started off at the Dizengoff where it was trance night. After an hour, a band came on to play with the trance music currently on-it was a very cool mix. My friend found out her friends were at another club so we grabbed a cab and went over. Seret is one of the classier clubs in Tel-Aviv and people were slightly older and dressed better. The music was almost all American and people could tell right away we were American by the way we knew the words-the Israelis were really excited. Around 2:15 we decided to leave and get back to the station. In Israel there are shared vans called sheiruts that travel to designated points in each city. The only problem is the whole van must be full. When we got there it was 2:30 am. The three of us fell asleep only to wake up to hear the sheirut driver yelling that the poor American girls are so tired and had been sitting for two hours. We were finally on our way back to Jerusalem at 5:15 am and by some miracle, or just pity, the driver dropped us off at our hotel at 6 am. We got out just in time to see the street cleaners, who could tell we had a great night.
Two hours later we were up and getting ready for a full day! Our first half of the day we were at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel. The Washington D.C. museum is an incredible place to visit, but there is something about the one in Israel that makes you understand the complexities and horror of the Holocaust. I went to the museum last summer with Birthright and it was one of the most important parts of the trip. In order to see the whole museum, you must take 7 hours to explore it all. This time we did the memorials outside and talked about a few individual stories. It was a different approach, but I wish we we were able to be inside, and I also felt bad for the people who have never been before. It’s just more incentive to come back to Israel and see it. My favorite part, if you could call it that, was the village of communities. Five thousand cities were ruined during the Holocaust and in order to understand how big the number five thousand is, there is a maze of huge stones with names of each city engraved. It was incredible to walk through all of the stone structures to try to grasp how many people were affected by the Holocaust.
After a lunch which included schwarma in pita, we walked over to the Knesset, the equivalent of the White House. Unfortunately we couldn’t bring any cameras in with us otherwise I would have taken so many pictures. The Knesset is so beautiful and is very modern inside and out. We were taken into a coference room and met with three members of the Likud party, the current political party in office. By the second person my eyes were slowly closing and I had to do everything in my power to stay awake. When the third speaker was starting his presentation and at least 4 people in the room were sleeping, I didn’t feel bad. Whatever I did hear from them was really interesting and they explained the political system in a new way, so I could better understand it. After an advocacy training session my friend and I went to a sushi restaurant for some curry udon soup. It was absolutely delicious and apparently the best sushi restaurant in Jerusalem. We decided to get to bed before midnight since we hadn’t slept the night before.
After a very restful sleep we woke up and brought our bags down stairs. It has been such a relief to be in one place for a whole week. We were not going to be in Jerusalem for a few nights, so until then we had to check out and bring all of our stuff with us.
The highlight of Wednesday was the Psagot winery in the Shomron region (West Bank). We all had a great time tasting the different wines from the region and taking beautiful pictures.
Later in the day we went to a few different view points and went to the ancient city of Shiloh where the tabernacle used to be.
After another rocky mountain ride uphill we overlooked where Joseph’s tomb is is Schem. On the way down we drove through a Palestinian Authority and Israel controlled road in a Palestinian city. There was a massive car accident and watched as different ambulances from Israel and army vehicles drove by. After twenty minutes of pictures and army vehicle hit our bus! Luckily we were not in danger and were on our way.
Thursday we toured the Golan Heights, which ironically last time I was there my camera died, and it died again while we were there, so no pictures. The most exciting part was going to the Lebanese border with soldiers, bringing them candy, and looking up to see the mountain that Hezbollah sits on top of. This is no joke, we were as close as you can be to the border with Hezbollah watching our every move. We planted a kiwi tree to show that no matter what, this land is ours and will grow prosperously. We went to Tiberias which is on the Kinnert and took an evening cruise. We all danced and made a drum circle in the middle of the sea-we had a great time.
My next post will include Shabbat in Efrat and our last days in Israel!