Day 7

Today we visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.  We have a guided tour followed get to hear a Holocaust survivor speak; she is a sharp woman who was close friends with Anne Frank in Amsterdam.  We then tour around Mt Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery (equivalent to our Arlington).  We hear stories about several brave soldiers and conclude at Herzl’s tomb where our Israeli soldiers lead a short ceremony and tell us about their Memorial Day during which a siren sounds and everything stops in order to truly commemorate all those who died.

Now we are headed to the North, to Golan Heights, a Syrian territory which is governed by Israel.

Day 6

Some of us attend a service at a local synagogue.  The rabbi is American and the men and women are separated here; I enjoy hearing some familiar prayers.  We mostly just relax on Shabbat, just doing some group activities discussing Jewish identity.  Some great discussions are sparked that continue long after the activity.

 We have the Havdallah blessing, Shabbat’s closing, in a courtyard near a Jerusalem synagogue.  A highlight of the trip happens here, when, as we all have our arms around each other in a circle singing, a Hasidic Jewish man, joins our circle.  How touching—only in Jerusalem! Today is the first day of Hanukkah also.  As we weave through the narrow streets of the neighborhoods, heading back to our hotel to light Hanukkah candles, a couple invites us to join them in lighting theirs.  They turn out to be American.  All the neighborhood families are visiting outdoors, playing guitars, children playing together, and lighting their candles.

Day 5

This is a special day.  Eight of our Israeli peers join our group!  When Israeli kids turn 18 they must serve in the Israel Defense Force for 3 years, so 5 of them are still doing so.  Together we visit the Old City in Jerusalem.  We walk on the rooftops for panoramic views from the Jewish quarter, then visit the Western Wall, where some of us put notes of prayers into the cracks..

Western Wall
with Israeli friends in the Old City

We visit the Machane Yehuda market to gather some foods for our Shabbat service this evening.  We light candles at sundown, but then we have our Shabbat service on the light rail platform nearby.  This is so cool because the light rail in Jerusalem doesn’t run on Shabbat!  We have the Kiddush before dinner, and hangout eating traditional food and socializing after dinner.  Shabbat is all about relaxing.  One of our Israeli friends keeps Shabbat, meaning she cannot use the elevator, lights, or even the card key at the hotel.
No one in the streets of Jerusalem!

Day 4

When we wake up, we get to ride camels! Then best hike ever in Nahal Chavarim canyon where we spread out and bask in silence for a few minutes, then race each other up a big dune. 

A funny thing about Israeli culture is that they are known to be a bit pushy and sometimes plain rude!  At least what we consider to be rude, since we have so many rules about manners and tact; this is not built into their culture.  At breakfast, lots of school groups are at the Bedouin tents also and in the buffet line, kids are just squeezing in between all parts of the lines and basically swooping all around us.  Our tour guide brings it up later and we laugh.  During our hike, we were all standing in a small water sistern in the ground and a school group approaches the stairs at the top.  Our guide tells them just give me two minutes but their teacher warmly says no no we're gonna join you!  So again, schoolkids are pushing their way into the cracks of our group.  I also notice that when someone is addressing our group, they often just continue talking to each other!  This is behavior you can't help but laugh at and come to love.
Later this evening we head back to Jerusalem, where we get to explore some nightlife.

Day 3

Wake up is 4:30am so we can be on top of Masada for sunrise.  Masada is the rock plateau where an ancient Jewish settlement in the 1st century lived.  They watched the Romans build a ramp up the back for 3 years, knowing they would all be killed once the ramp was finished.  Instead they took part in mass suicide before they could be killed.  We explored the ruins up there, then went down the snake path on the front.
petting a kitty in the ruins
view of Dead Sea from Mt Massada

colorful sand dunes

Next we visit a mahktesh, what looks like a crater but was actually made by erosion.  There are colorful sand dunes here and you can fill a bottle with colors to make art.  We meet some Israeli girls with a guitar and sing some Bob Marley and Sublime together.

drumming in Bedouin tent in oasis in the desert

Then to David Ben-Gurion’s grave at site overlooking the Zin Valley.

Next is the much-anticipated visit to the Beduoin tribe.  Here, we all eat dinner together in one tent, have a Bedouin-led drumming circle in another, and sleep side by side in another.

Day 2

We head towards the Dead Sea, first stopping for a little hike to a waterfall in the Ein Gedi oasis, yeah a desert waterfall! Then onward to a resort on the Dead Sea, 1300 feet below sea level, where we slather up with mud, then get into the saltiest water in the world.  The buoyancy is unreal; you can barely keep below the surface.  Giant salt clusters create the sea floor.  

We then ascend to a lookout point of the Judean desert and arrive in Arad for the night.

you can't drown in the Dead Sea
David waterfall in Ein Gedi

Day 1