Israel, Part 7 – Tel Aviv

Ahh Tel Aviv. I had no idea before this trip how much of a metropolitan city this was. We were lucky to stay at the Golden Beach Hotel right on the Mediterranean Sea. We spent the afternoon swimming in the magical Mediterranean. The water was so warm, the sand was super hot, and there were lots of baby jelly fish all over!

Here is the view from our room at sunset!

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Our last night in Israel was spent partying in Tel Aviv. Dressed for the occasion!

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Our tour guide Yoav has his party wig on

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The next morning we got a tour of Independence Hall.

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The exact room the Declaration of Independence was signed.

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Yes, that is a duck sitting on the table. That is schmucky the ducky. She became our group mascot and the focus of many photos. She not only stands there and looks pretty, but has a switch that makes her dance a special interpretative style dance. There were a few dance breaks where we all followed along.

Chocolate milk in a bag. More for the experience than the taste..

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Exploring Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv

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Cacha and I in Jaffa with Tel Aviv in the distance

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Jules and I found this adorable cafe.

A glass of rose was quite appropriate!

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Jules strolling through the Jaffa market

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Exploring the streets of Jaffa

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Our last supper together

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New friends!

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Shalom Israel! Until next time…

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Israel, Part 6 – Gaza Border

First stop after leaving Jerusalem was Netiv HaAsara. This is a community right on the boarder of Gaza. This area is in constant danger of being hit by rockets coming from Gaza. There are multiple barricades, including 2 heavy duty cement walls. One to keep out artillery one to keep out sniper fire. Our host, Shmulik Rosenbaum, took us in FRONT OF the sniper wall to show us a taste of what life is like in their community.

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walking along the sniper wall

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pieces of the wall with an army guard station in the background

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members of the community have created a peace wall on a portion of the wall

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adding my own piece of peace!

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for lunch, we went to this amazing hummus place. Lots of different hummus options with different toppings: meat, mushrooms, pesto, egg, etc etc.

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Next we visited Sderot, which is less than 1 mile from the Gaza Strip. The Sderot Media Center hosted us and taught us about life in Sderot. Since October 2000 the city has had thousands of Qassam rockets fired at it.  Many of these rockets are homemade so they’re not perfect and therefore don’t always kill, but they have killed an estimated 11 residents. Thousands have been injured, millions of dollars of damage done, and about 75% of the residents suffer from PTSD.

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A small amount of missiles fired at Sderot, housed at the local Police Station.

They have an alarm system which once the “Red Color” alarm sounds, they have 7-15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter before the rocket touches down. Because of this constant danger, there is about 1 bomb shelter for every 2 residents. All bus stations double as bomb shelters. The structure of the parks the kids play in double as bomb shelters

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Israel, Part 5 – Jerusalem

We’ve been up since 3am and have done more activities than I do sometimes in a week. We’re on the bus and I’m completely passed out in a deep sleep. I get woken up by someone handing me a blindfold saying “put it on” and in my sleepy state I oblige (I trust these people.) We’re all walked out of the bus and line up at (I found out after the blindfold was off) Mount Scopus Observation Point.

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and when you take the blindfold off…..

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After taking in the view we got checked into our hotel, Jerusalem Gate. We watched some videos on Mt Herzl, Michael Levin, and heard the story of a Holocaust survivor. Prepping us for what was to be one of the hardest days of the trip going to Yad Vashem and Mt Herzl the next day.

First stop, Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. To quote our tour guide before we went in “I hate this day, I hate this place, but it’s part of our history” The museum has done a beautiful job of telling the story and remembering those lost in such a tragic period of history. There is a separate building for the Children’s Memorial.  “This unique memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected infinitely in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background.” (Taken form the Yad Vashem website)

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Walking through the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations . Tree’s have been planted in honor of people who helped save countless lives during the Holocaust. The double tree in the background was planted for Mr. and Mrs. Schindler.

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The Pillar of Heroism

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Next up was a trip to Mt Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery.

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We heard stories of a few people buried there, but one story in particular stood out. Michael Levin was born and raised in the US and fought to be able to join the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and was killed in battle during the Second Lebanon War

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People put rocks & objects on the tombs to show that they have visited.

Theodor Herzl is buried at the very top of Mt Herzl. Herzl is the founder of the State of Israel and this is where their Independence Day holiday kicks off.

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Part of our group consisted of Israelis. Basically all Israelis join the IDF right out of High School. It’s typical for both men AND women to spend at least 3 years serving in the IDF and then travel, all before going into College. It’s crazy to think how different an Israel adult is than an American adult putting each of our experiences into perspective.

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Shabbat started at sundown, so we had a group shabbat at our hotel which was super casual. Saturday we walked around Jerusalem which becomes eerily quiet with very few cars on the road and most businesses shut down. We walked by the Knesset which is Israel’s government building. Across from the building is this beautiful Menorah which has many different scenes carved into it.

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After another casual service for Havdalah, all 48 people of our group ventured to downtown Jerusalem for a night out on the town

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Downtown Jerusalem

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Next day we explored the Old City Jerusalem. This is a .35 sq mi walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem.

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City of David

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Casual. Bad ass IDF chicks hanging out

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This is the Cardo. Basically Main St Jerusalem circa 2nd-3rd centuries CE. So crazy how old this city is and how much history there is. Imagine all the people who have walked these exact streets…

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All around the old city you can walk from roof to roof

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And now… THE WESTERN WALL. Also known as The Wailing Wall or The Kotel. This is one of the most Holy sites. There are separate sections for males & females, you have to dress modestly/covered, and when you walk away you back up so you don’t turn your back to the wall.

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Common practice is to write a prayer or a wish on paper, put it into the wall, hold your hands to the wall, kiss it, whatever you feel is right.

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After the wall we ventured to Machane Yehuda Market. This is an open/closed air market or shuk.

Machane Yehuda Market

There are tons of stalls of different goods, a lot of chachki items and a lot of delish foods, spices, and candy.

Machane Yehuda Market

Machane Yehuda Market

The delicacy of the market is Rugelach. I’m not sure making them on your own could ever be as dreamy as the ones found in the market, but I found this recipe if you dare to try it. Maybe one day I’ll give it a shot.

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again, i was too busy enjoying to take a photo, so here is one from the recipe at http://crepesofwrath.net/

Group photo at The Western Wall

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Israel, Part 4 – Masada and The Dead Sea

Here comes what I was looking forward to most, Masada & The Dead Sea! This journey starts at the Bedouin Tents. From Tzfat we drove south and as soon as we got off the bus we had camels waiting for us.

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Natalie and I paired up for our romantic camel ride into the sunset

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Everyone mounting and getting settled on their camels

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When we got back from the short camel ride, we were welcomed by our Bedouin host for some tea and the coffee ceremony.  That tea was delish!

bedouin host

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We were fed this meal: rice, meatballs, chicken wings, Israel sides, and pita. yum! (PS, no utensils for this, all hands in!)

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Our sleeping accommodations were a massive tent with mats for all 40+ of us. Good thing we all liked each other and were only sleeping for a couple hours!

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Before going to bed, we walked out into the Judaean desert, layed down towels, and watched the stars. It was so magical laying in such peace. It was so clear that we could see the Milky Way. That’s not something you see everyday if you live anywhere close to a city! When we got back to our tent we had a campfire, and instead of our traditional marshmellow roasting, our new Israel friends were super excited to show us the POTATO roasting. They wrapped ’em in tin foil and threw them in the fire. We started a new game with the left over potatoes which turned into a lot of potato hucking across the table. When life gives you potatoes, have fun with them!

3:00am wake up for Masada! The goal is to get to the top before the sun comes up, so we had some coffee and cookies (and a cliff bar I packed which probably saved my life) and were on the bus by 3:30am. We climbed up the easier Roman ramp path which is a short, steep, winding path with stairs & loose gravel.  It took us about 15 minutes to get to the top. Even though it’s short, it still felt like an accomplishment getting to the top with the moon still in sight and the sun on it’s way up!

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Precious moments before the sun came up… our guide started playing Here Comes the Sun and the Lion King’s Circle of Life.

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AND THERE IT IS! The sun rising over the dead sea.

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And, as if that wasn’t magical enough, we started blowing bubbles!

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Group photo!

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Once the sun was out we started exploring all that Masada has to offer.

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We spent some time inside a large cistern which used to be used to hold rainwater

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walking down into the cistern

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We learned about the history through members of our group acting out the history. The general gist is Herod the Great built up Masada as his winter palace sometime in the BCE times. It was extremely lavish and was visited by people like Cleopatra. In the early CE years it was a fortress of Jewish zealots during the Jewish wars against the Romans. The Romans spent some time building a ramp to attack, and when they got to the top it is said that all 960 Jews had committed a mass suicide in lieu of being captured.

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Once we were done we walked down the other path, called the Snake Path. It was about 11am at this point so the sun was out in FULL FORCE. Whether you’re walking up or down in day time, BRING SO MUCH WATER. More than you think you need. It took about 40 minutes to walk down and by the end I was so swollen that rings that normally fit my middle finger had to be on my pinky. Definitely worth the experience though!

masada snake path

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After a quick stop for breakfast/lunch, we headed to Ein Gedi, an oasis with waterfalls. This was a welcome refreshing break after Masada!

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One last pit stop before reaching The Dead Sea. We stopped at the Ahava factory/store, a world renown maker of Dead Sea products. Also fun fact, Ahava means love in hebrew!

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Finally, THE DEAD SEA!

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Testing out the mud 🙂

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dead sea mud

I know the stories of the dead sea and how buoyant it is and how you float and yada yada yada. BUT, actually getting in the water was the coolest thing ever. (Just make sure you don’t have any open wounds, that water is super intense)

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Israel, Part 3 – Tzfat

Have you heard of Tzfat/Safed? I hadn’t. It’s a very small town up in the mountains and is said to be the birthplace of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism.  When we got off the bus the air just felt different, maybe more pure or clear, but it definitely had a mystical vibe to it. It’s an artistic town as well so everywhere had a unique beautiful look to it.

The steps to get up to the city

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We started at Avraham’s studio. This guy is totally aawwwwwwwweesomeeeeeeee.Screen-Shot-2013-09-05-at-9.19.13-PM

Wandering the streets of Tzfat

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Walking through the artists market

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Listening to the music of these talented gentlemen.

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Simtat HaMashiach – The Messiah’s Alley

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The narrowest of all Safed’s alleys. Grandma Yocheved believed that the Messiah would pass through Safed on his way to Jerusalem, and would surely enter the city via her alley. She used to sit at the entrance waiting for him.

Cheese and Bread. People have been eating them together forever! This though, was magical. A Yemen man named Ronan started this stall on the streets of Tzfat. It’s simple, a yemen “pancake” that is topped with herbs & spices, vegetables & authentic Tzfat cheeses. THE LACHUCH.  So, if you ever find yourself in Tzfat go there, and enjoy.

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lachuch

Photo from Tasha’s Travel Blog

nom nom. more deliciousness… fresh squeezed juice!

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with the juice at the entrance to the art alley

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beautiful artistic city

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view from Livnot Ulehibanot

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Israel, Part 2 – The Golan Heights

Our first full day in Israel took us on a water hike, to the Syrian border, testing Olive Oil products, rafting, and SHAWARMA.

When I first heard “water hike” I thought this meant some serious climbing up waterfalls and rock faces etc. What this was, in fact, was a stroll through a flat river at Majrasa Estuary. We learned all about how efficient Israel is with their water supply using desalination. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

Majrasa Estuary Water “Walk”

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Next up was adventuring to Bental Observation Point in the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights are a hugely significant military region. On an International map, the land is recognized as Syria, however Israel has occupied the land since the Six Day War in 1967. From the observation point we were overlooking Syria. SYRIA. In the midst of a Civil War, Syria. The hottest topic of all News, Syria. Talk about a real experience. We got to walk through old military bunkers and “debate” the benefits/negatives of keeping ownership of the Territory vs. giving it back to Syria.

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Bental Observation Point

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Overlooking multiple Kibbutz (villages/communities) on the Israel side. One of our group leader’s Mom met her first love down there many years ago.

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Looking out at Syria from inside one of the old Military bunkers

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Walking out of the bunker

Next up was lunch in Katzrin. I thought I was going to eat fallafel, fallafel, and more fallafel, but Amit (our other leader) sold the SHAWARMA so hard I had to try it. I was too excited to eat it to take photos, so here is a summary of shawarma and it’s magicalness

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After lunch we got to test the amazing products at Olea Essence.

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This is their beautiful visitor center!

next… RAFTING ON THE JORDAN RIVER! So fun. I’ve been rafting in Maine and Thailand, and this was by far the mellow-ist. Our raft consisted of 5 ladies and Randy, our hero. He paddled and steered us the whole way while we casually sat and enjoyed (and laughed, a lot)

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Israel, Part 1

Birthright. Taglit. Awesomeness. I had no idea going into my trip what an amazing experience I was about to embark on. 10 days, 48 new friends, and 1000 photos later I’m in love with Israel. Let’s go through a photo journey of my trip starting at the beginning.

Israel Essentials

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Passport | Israel Shekles | Skullcandy Fix | Journal | iPad | iPhone | Mophie Charging Case | GoPro Hero 3 | Fodor’s Israel

I have arrived! First stop, the Sea of Galilee (AKA Lake Kinneret.) No jet lag can stop the excitement of seeing this for the first time.

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Second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea (more info on that one later)

First group photo. This was the beginning of our Mishpacha love!

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First morning waking up in Israel, sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

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Taken from the balcony of our hostel, Poriya Guest House & Hostel. Highly recommend it if you’re traveling to this area of Israel!

PS This is our bus driver, no one can handle a 20 point turn with a cliff on both sides like this guy!

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