Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Galen's Days in Israel: Part Three

This is Part Three in my Israel Logs. Finally. 

You can find the first installment here, and the second here.

Jan 8:
I awoke this morning in Tiberius to realize that our hotel room had a huge balcony overlooking a lake; I didn't notice it last night because it was dark when we got in.

All I want in the world is to eat some fruit at breakfast, but that ain't the way of things in the Promised Land. You know what you can have, though? Cole slaw. Two or three varieties, even. What I would give for some blueberries...

Driving to the Golan, we passed the Sea of Galilee, Magdala (Mary Magdalene's hometown), and the Jordan River. I think that's as close as we'll get to any Christian landmarks, but there they are, waiting for other people to come and visit.

We spent a couple hours hiking in the Golan Heights. I hate to say it, but I was so bored by the magnificent landscape; I've grown so jaded. I can hardly take in another amazing sight. 

Back on the bus, Shabat played a CD donated by a past Birthrighter. We all sang our hearts out to some Mariah Carey. 

Our second stop, Mount Bental, sits on the Syrian border. There, Shabat told us about the Yom Kippur War. In the middle of our discussion, we heard an explosion in the distance, in Syria. Almost before I could react, our Israeli group members were talking.

"Oh, did you hear that?"
"That was a bomb."
"Guys, did you hear it?"

Damascus was a good fifty miles away, farther than our eyes could see, but the war was within earshot.

My sense of amazement was renewed.

We stopped for lunch in a small town just off the highway. I wandered into a cafe, bought a latte and a meringue cookie, and ate alone for the first time since I left Atlanta. For fifteen minutes, I was a solitary traveller. Then I boarded a bus with 49 other people - once again, a member of the herd. 

We took a quick tour through an olive oil factory. We sampled flavored oils and tried a line of olive oil beauty products. I've been cleaning my face with olive oil for years - perhaps my lovely readers would appreciate a tutorial? 

We visited yet another Kibbutz as the afternoon waned. This one was very modern - it looked like a college campus (no mud huts to be found). I think I'd like to live on a kibbutz - I'd make a salary, do my share for the whole community, and eat all my meals for free. Do you think there are any kibbutzi that want a resident actor? 

On our drive to Jerusalem, the bus became a comedy club. As you might imagine, things got pretty...blue. It was such a spontaneous, electric event; the air crackled with laughter. I wish that bus ride had lasted nine hours.

This was a Wild Wednesday

Jan 9:

Last night, I stayed-up til 2 discussing Palestine with one of our Israeli guests. It was my latest night of the whole trip, and so far my favorite. 

This day was incredibly emotional. I don't want to explain it; I don't have the energy. I'll just tell you where we went: Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum), and Mount Hertzel (the military cemetery).

So yeah, light day.

In the evening, I popped into a cafe with Michelle and we ordered absolutely delicious hot chocolate (shoko haam). 

A Taxing Thursday.

Jan 10:
I feel like I've been here for a month. It's been incredible, but I'm really ready to go home. This program is exhausting. The last time I woke up this early this often, I was in high school. My body can hardly take it.

This morning, we went to the Old City of Jerusalem. It's a fascinating place - there is so much overlapping history. We stood on the roof where the four quarters meet, and I could hardly take it in; so much happened in this city, it means so much to so many, and there we were, smack in the middle. Is this real life?

The main event, of course, was the Weatern Wall. As I waited with my note in my hand, I pinched the skin on my forearm. My grandma Hannah and my great-grndma Gussie each prayed for her moment with the wall, but they never went; I felt like I was standing there for all of us. When my turn came, I placed my forehead on the stone and took a deep breath. If hope has a smell, it smells like the Western Wall. If the collective energy of that place cannot reach to heaven, then I am not sure heaven exists. 

Afterward, we visited an adjacent archeological site, but no one could concentrate; our minds were still at the wall with our fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and teachers and friends.

Shabat gave us a task for the afternoon: pick a name out of a hat and buy that person a Secret Schlomo (because who is this 'Santa?') gift. We scoured the Jerusalem market for presents under ten shekels, and I got hopelessly lost for twenty minutes. It was no big deal; I bought a chocolate chai latte and stood still until I saw someone I knew.

Our second Shabbat began at sundown. We lit candles and walked to a nearby neighborhood. The Sephardic synagogue allowed us to come inside and observe the men in prayer; they even let the women sit in the main sanctuary (a very big deal for this Orthodox congregation). 

My Secret Schlomo was Liz. She got me candied almonds from the market because they're, "sweet, and a bit nutty," like me. They smelled like heaven and tasted better.

What a Fine Friday.

Jan 11:
Our last day in Israel, ten people in our group had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony was quite simple, but overwhelmingly beautiful. We each went up in turn and sang the blessings, and (since none of us read Hebrew) the trip leaders read the portion for us.

This ceremony was so important to me; I have always felt like a Jewish Outsider, but now I am official. I was so nervous while I sang the blessings, but afterwards I could stop smiling. I was surprised by the flood of emotion that came through me, but I really shouldn't have been. Belonging in the Jewish community has always been very important to me, and this ceremony has put to rest the doubts which plagued me for so long.

It was a Sweet Shabbat,

Jan 12:
The rest of our day was all travel - bus to airport to plane to airport to plane to Atlanta. We even traveled back in time - time zones are funny that way. My sleep schedule is a mess, and I don't know how long it will take me to recover. But I'm home, finally, in the land of cheeseburgers and drip coffee. 

Quite the Strange Sunday.

My first trip overseas was exhilarating, exhausting, confusing, humbling, trying, thrilling, and amazing. It's something I'll carry with me forever; I hope that I am very different for it.

In all, a Terrific Trip.

1 comment:

  1. I've really enjoyed reading your Israel logs, feel as though I got to have a glimpse of the country through impartial eyes. Your description of being at the Western Wall brought tears to my eyes. So glad you got to go on this trip and finish it up with your Bat Mitzvah! What a wonderful ending-beginning..... Mazel tov!!


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