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