Home-stretch in the Homeland

May 25 – June 8

Another long post.  The past few weeks have been so memorable and impactful.  I’ve learned so much about Israel and about Judaism, and how much this country means to people.  Here are week six and seven highlights:

Acco: On our first trip of week six, we began the day by having a lesson on a beach by the Sea of Galilee, and learned about illegal immigrants who made their way into Israel during the British mandate. We did an activity on the beach to simulate all the struggles these Ma’apilim (immigrants) went through to seek refuge in Israel.  Our next stop was to the first Displaced Persons camp, called Atlit, for these refugees.  Most of the Ma’apilim of Aliyah Bet (wave of immigrants who came during the mandate) were Holocaust survivors, which makes their struggles even more impactful.  Later on, we went up north to Acco, a prison that’s been used since Medieval times and was used until around the time of the mandate.  We had a lesson on the Israeli responses to violence from the British, and sung the Hatikvah (Israeli national anthem) to honor those who gave up their lives for independence.  Our final stop for the day was to Rosh Hanikra, a beautiful cluster of grottos carved out by the sea.  We had the chance to put our feet in Lebanon, or at least No Man’s Land on the Israeli-Lebanese border.  Learning about the struggle for independence is something I knew very little about before my program, and this tiyul was so impactful for me.

Open Shabbat: On open Shabbat of our sixth week, I stayed on campus with some of my good friends. On Friday night we took a taxi into neighboring town Ra’anana, where we had services in a beautiful park in town.  Saturday we slept in, as per usual, went out for lunch at a café in Hod HaSharon, and watched movies.  All in all a very relaxing and much-needed weekend.

Tel Aviv: Our next tiyul found us in Tel Aviv. We started our day by having class right next to Tel Aviv beach, which was so much fun. After we learned the history of the city, and why it’s important to Israel, our teacher Benjy gave us a walking tour of buildings from the period when Tel Aviv was first constructed. After ice cream and a quick discussion, we went to Independence Hall and saw the place where David ben Gurion and other incredible Zionists and leaders of Israel stood and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1948.  Next was lunch in the Tel Aviv shuk (market), which was actually very special. We had an assignment to interview five different types of Israelis on what being Jewish means to them. It was nerve-wracking to go up and start conversations with random strangers, but the experience was definitely memorable. These interviews gave us inspiration for an essay we had to write that night, on what being Jewish means to us.  Anyway, our last stop for the day was to a town square in the center of Tel Aviv where most protests and rallies in the city happen. It’s also the place where, unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. This tiyul was an incredibly long and full day, but a very memorable one, for sure.

Shavuot: Big surprise, we were in Israel for yet another holiday! This one was called Shavuot, which is a Jewish holiday symbolizing the day when Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Our campus closed and we all had to stay with hosts, and since my friend Sydney and I didn’t know people to host us, AMHSI assigned us to a family that lived in Hod HaSharon.  They were so hospitable, which is a common theme among Israelis. We had a big holiday dinner with their extended family at night, and the next day we spent the majority of our time at the beach.  It was fun to have a holiday break from classes and such in the middle of the week, but our group was so happy to be together again after spending a night apart.

Kiryat Gat & Ein Rafa: We spent several days in class learning about Zionism and all the different waves of Aliyot (groups of immigrants who moved to Israel for various reasons, commonly because of religious persecution).  Our next tiyul was geared towards learning about the fate of different immigrant groups who weren’t Ashkenazi Jews.  First we stopped at an Ethiopian village called Kiryat Gat.  We learned about the struggles that Ethiopian Jews endured to come to Israel, and the racism they still face in the country today.  We heard the story of a woman who came to Israel with her family – she walked from Ethiopia to Sudan and eventually took a boat the rest of the way.  It was a powerful reminder of the lengths people have gone to so they can seek refuge here.  Our other stop for the day was to an Arab village called Ein Rafa.  We heard from a British woman who converted to Islam and moved to Israel, and she helped shed a light on the side of Israel that we as Jews and Americans don’t hear about enough.  She told us that being a Muslim in Israel certainly isn’t easy, but that she loves raising her family here.  I loved visiting both of these  places, because not every person in Israel is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and this tiyul was a great way to learn more about different types of people living here.

Open Shabbat: On week seven, we had another open Shabbat. This time, my friend Lucy and I stayed with a friend from home’s cousin, in a town called Rishon Lizion.  We had a delicious family dinner, heard them play music because they’re all incredible musicians, and spent another full day at the beach on Saturday.  It was another great Shabbat, and our last open Shabbat.

Golan: We ended week seven on an incredible overnight tiyul in the Golan Heights, the northern mountains of Israel.  On our first day we had a learned about the heroism of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who helped get information from the Syrian Ministry of Defense in the Six-Day war.  We visited a kibbutz on the border of Lebanon, and learned about life there during times of war.  We went kayaking in the Jordan River, which was crazy and I may or may not have fallen out of my raft. We also stopped briefly at a kibbutz that manufactures Naot sandals, which are the Israeli version of Birkenstocks.  Finally, we arrived at the beautiful kibbutz where we had dinner spent the night.  The next morning we woke up early to beat the heat, and hiked down a dormant volcano where we were greeted with a freezing cold but refreshing swim in a waterfall. The hike was hard but so rewarding and beautiful, and it was also our last hike for the trip.  Plus, after the hike, we had pizza for lunch.  After lunch and an ice cream break, we stopped at an overlook to the Syrian border.  We spoke to some UN soldiers who were stationed there to observe the border. Later, we had a lesson about heroes from the Yom Kippur war, and visited a kibbutz where we watched a documentary about them.  And finally, we had dinner in a Druze village, heard music, and talked with someone who explained what being Druze in Israel is like. Druze is a religion that developed from Islam, and Druze people live in isolated towns to help preserve their traditions.  This tiyul was so much fun and a great one to be our last overnight trip.

I am in absolute denial that I have less than a week left in this beautiful country.  Talk to you next week!

~Ari

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