Julia in Israel: Passover in Tel Aviv

Birthright trip

Last Thursday, I waved goodbye to many of my birthright friends and watched them load the bus, my pseudo-home for the last 10 days. It was emotional to see them go, but I felt fortunate because my time in Israel had not come to a close. Birthright participants have the option to extend their stay for up to three months! A little less than half of our group decided to stay - either to visit family, go back to certain cities they felt a need to explore more, or just to spend more time with their new friends.

The morning after birthright had officially ended, we all had a weird sense of reclaimed freedom. Birthright was incredible for so many reasons, but you really lose your agency to make personal decisions, and as an adult, it is a strange regression to undergo. All of a sudden we could sleep in as late as we wanted, we could go to the Carmel market for 10 minutes or 2 hours, we could walk to the beach unattended, and go to bathroom without notifying our trip leader. The opportunity to explore Tel Aviv on our own time, felt very special to me. My friend and I walked for hours, with no clear destination and felt truly immersed in the life. I felt like a real local, when Israelis would speak Hebrew to us, of course, they quickly realized we were American when we replied, "slicha, ani lo medaberet ivrit." (pardon the loose transliteration).

Our second day in Tel Aviv, fell on the first day of Passover and we spent part of the day preparing for our group seder. We were assigned to make the charoset! Without a recipe on hand, we went to the open air market and bought the essentials - apples, dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine. We were ready to wing it and it really paid off. That evening, we walked to our friend's airbnb apartment in Jaffa and began our seder. I was so impressed by the commitment of my birthright friends and their effort to make this experience a special one. Our extremely clever friend made brisket without an oven, matzo ball soup without a large pot, and the most delicious Passover dessert - banana fritters. Everyone contributed in their own way, they cooked roasted veggies, bought matzo, wine, and a seder plate. They downloaded a haggadah on their iPhones, and even made Kippas out of napkins! The seder was certainly less traditional, but it felt so fitting for our group. We told the story of Passover, asked the four questions, spoke about the significance of the seder plate, sang every Passover song at least once, and truly enjoyed our last night together. I will hold my memories from that evening very close to my heart. We concluded the evening, not with "next year in Jerusalem" but rather, "this year in Tel Aviv!"

Julia in Israel: Complete. Exhaustion.

Congregation Beth Sholom San Francisco Whew, I'm pooped! Today we woke up at 5 a.m. to hike Masada and see the sun rise. It was so beautiful. The expansive canyon paired with the uninterrupted view of the sun was breathtaking. Completely worth the sleep deprivation. After Masada, we floated in the Dead Sea! Feeling so buoyant in a body of water is a surreal experience. However, we had to buy the mud, that seemed silly to me. Afterwards we made the long trek to Eilat, the southernmost point in Israel. We stayed the night and went out together in the resort-like town.

Blog 5 # 2

Yesterday we hiked through Tzfahot, a canyon near the Red Sea. We could see Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia from the top! Afterward we took a boat out on the Red Sea and went snorkeling and swam! Last night we camped in a Bedouin tent in the Negev, which felt like an authentic experience. 41 bodies under one tent is unforgettable. We also enjoyed a traditional Bedouin dinner and were treated to their hospitality. We began our morning riding camels through the desert and later visited a lemon farm.

We are back in Tel Aviv for our last night on birthright. Our journey has gone by so quickly and I'm sad to see it go. I have made 41 new friends and I feel so grateful to be able to have had this experience. I'm extending my trip in Tel Aviv for two days and will be doing a Seder with my birthright friends in the city. I'll report back on my first Seder in Israel!

Julia in Israel: Shabbat in Jerusalem

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Julia in Israel: The Adventure Continues!

Today is our third full day in Israel and we have covered so much ground in this short period of time. Yesterday we traveled to Tzfat, one of the four holy cities in Israel. We went to the home of an incredible artist named David Friedman, who is influenced by Kabbalah, a jewish mysticism. His artwork has vibrant watercolors, geometric shapes, and hebrew lettering. Each painting has layers of meaning and I was in awe as he peeled each one away, revealing more about his art and the facets of Kabbalism.

Congregation Beth Sholom San Francisco

The city is 6,000 years old and many buildings still exude this history- stonewalls, iron gates, and damage from several earthquakes. The population is generally more observant and you can see this in the clothing they wear- women cover their hair and men have paeot. We concluded our day at the mikveh, a ritual bathhouse. The women were given a tour of the spa-like space and engaged in a discussion about the mitzvah of the mikveh, and dating and marrying in the orthodox sect.

Congregation Beth Sholom San Francisco

We drove to Tel Aviv that evening, and what an extreme dichotomy from Tzfat! Today in Tel Aviv, 7 Israeli peers joined our trip and I'm excited to speak with them about their experience growing up in the country and serving in the IDF. We visited Rabin Square and independence Hall and learned about the creation of the state of Israel and the war of Independence. I still feel like there is so much to discuss; we really just skimmed the surface on Israel's history. Luckily we are having another political talk this evening, once in Jerusalem. Afterwards we walked through the outdoor market in Tel Aviv; it was heavenly. Fresh fruit, amazing food, and filled with people. My friend and I explored the area and stumbled upon a small restaurant, which was more like a kitchen in someone's home. It was fantastic. Now we are on our way to Jerusalem and tomorrow we will spend Shabbat in the holiest city of Israel. More later, le'heit!

Julia Yasser, CBS Communications Coordinator, Birthright Trip

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