Follow by Email

Monday, January 6, 2014

Har Herzl

Seeing a cemetery on the itinerary was not necessarily an attractive notion. As an American who has seen the neat, white rows of tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the notion of a military cemetery was one that seemed to be more uncomfortable than anything else.

When we crested the hill, though, at Mount Herzl, the National Cemetery, it was hard not to be struck by the beauty. From the very first moments, it was clear that this was not a site of mourning, but rather a reflection on the incredible lives that have given everything to the creation of the state of Israel. Glimmering stone, sculpted agriculture, and a sky that seemed permanently blue decorated the landscape.
We saw the graves of the greatest leaders in Israel's history. With his voice, Yitzhak Rabin was able to bring Israel as close to peace as it has ever been. With her might, Golda Meir was able to serve her country in times of war, defending the place she loved. With his pen, Theodore Herzl, the namesake of the cemetery, was able to create an idea so infectious that we, almost 100 years later, are able to see the fruits of his labor. Each and every individual was able to give just one small piece of the puzzle to the Zionist idea. Yet, all together, it is their collective contribution that we see the beauty of this country.

As we made our way through the incredible natural park that housed the bodies of the greatest defendants of Israel, we were blessed with the opportunity to hear from our companions currently serving in the IDF. Each group had several soldiers who had traveled and explored with us, and getting to hear their own connections to those who had lost their lives in Israel's defense was something that left most of us in tears.

The weight of the moment was immense, painful, and moving. Yet, above all of the emotional turmoil, there was one, undeniable feeling: Hope. These men, these women, who gave their lives to allow us to visit and love this incredible place, lay in a beautiful resting place.

We have so much to learn from them, and we share these moments with our peers, both American and Israeli. Looking off, into the distance, past the sorrow and loss, the Israeli hills stretch out, Jerusalem shining in the last rays of daylight, a future of peace just doesn't seem that far away.

May the memory of all of those who gave their life so that we, their inheritance, can come to this incredible place be forever for a blessing.

-- Austin Zoot, Bus 1121

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The difference between a tourist and a witness.

I now know the difference between being a tourist and being a witness.

As I stood on a promenade this morning overlooking the majestic city of Jerusalem, I, Aaron Matthew Bloom, received my Hebrew name. In a circle surrounded by some of my newest friends, Ally and Shakked recited blessings and poems in honor of the occasion.

One's Hebrew name represents the keystone of their Jewish identity. It embodies a person's individual character and personality. During my birthright trip, I was presented with an opportunity to select and receive an official Hebrew name. Pretty epic.

Today I chose the name Shalom Yaron. Shalom meaning "peace," and Yaron meaning "he will sing."

We all face struggles whether through school, family, or love. I feel as though I've reached a point in my life where my mind is at peace. I'm at peace with the challenges and hardships I've faced in the past few years, and I want to use the lessons I've learned to help others and better myself.

As looked out over the city and at my peers, I felt in my mind and heart that I was at the right place. I belonged.

In other incredibly exciting news; some cool people had a Bar Mitzvah last night. Several hundred of us pegged them with candy and raised them high in chairs as we celebrated the end of Shabbat. I'm lucky to have met some of these wonderful people and be a witness to this important event in their life. Mazel Tov!!!
 The Old City of Jerusalem's streets wind in every direction and are dotted with reminders of its thousand-year history. Bus 1120 adventured through its streets most of the afternoon; hopping over rooftops, eating falafel, and placing notes in the Western Wall / the Kotel, Judaism's most sacred site.

I felt warm and welcomed as I sat at the base of the wall. I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts on where exactly where I was. I then took a small piece of paper out of my backpack. On it I wrote my new Hebrew name, a message to my sister, and a promise to myself.

The wall is old, but beautiful. Thousands of tiny notes stuffed every crevice and the wear of time marked its face.

Shakked explained the Wall's history and meaning in the Jewish faith, giving us a valuable perspective on our location.

Many of us separated and shared private moments with the wall.

The experience and sensation of being there was unforgettable.

 Tomorrow, we head to Yad Vashem, the world center for Holocaust Research and Museum. I know that we will all learn an incredible amount tomorrow, and I'm enjoying every moment of our last few days in the beautiful country of Israel.


Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem and for many, their first Shabbat in Israel.

Shabbat began last night with a candle lighting service in which some members of our trip shared their family’s traditions and employed them in our candle lighting. We then headed to a variety of services including reformed, conservative, Orthodox and a “learners service” which included a discussion about Shabbat. A majority of our bus attended the conservative service, which was held in a room with windows that allowed us to watch the sun set on Jerusalem. Following services and Shabbat dinner, Ally and Jon planned an Oneg Shabbat, which included traditional (and delicious) Israeli desserts as well as a few games planned by members of our programming committee.

As Shabbat is a day of rest, we were given a choice of attending services at a Jerusalem synagogue, relaxing and recharging with a yoga class or just catching up on sleep. Some of our members that attended services shared with the group how welcomed they felt by the synagogues congregation, whom made sure everyone had tallit and felt comfortable in the service.

After lunch, we headed outside to play games that had been planned by our Israeli soldiers. We then headed to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service for several participants who wanted to reaffirm their commitment to Judaism with a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem.

Following the service, all of the groups staying at our hotel headed to the hotel terrace where we had a joint Havdalah service in front of the city lights led by the participants who just had their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It was an excellent experience to close out Shabbat with the entire Hillel group and dance on the rooftop.

Ally and Jon then led us in a reflection program by asking questions regarding our Israel experience and personal beliefs. It gave us a good chance to think about what has been going on and the changes everyone was experiencing in their religious and personal beliefs.

Currently, we are preparing to head to Ben Yehuda street for dinner, shopping and to experience Israeli nightlife.

Having previously visited Israel, I had a slightly different experience today than others that experienced their first Shabbat in Israel. Rather than seeing everything for the first time, I received an equally great experience by watching how others reacted to Shabbat in Jerusalem. By far, the coolest part of the day was hearing about everyone’s moment when it first hit them that they were in Jerusalem for Shabbat. For some it was watching the city begin shutting down on the drive in. Others watched the women prepare the Shabbat table from our hotel rooms. A few people shared with the group that it didn’t fully hit them until attending services this morning. For first-timers or returners to Israel, there is nothing as spiritual as spending Shabbat in Jerusalem.

-Ben Rubin Bus 1120

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

After a wonderful night celebrating New Year's in Israel, we ventured off to Mt. Arbel for our first major hike of the trip.  Mt. Arbel sits on a rock canyon overlooking a Bedouin village and is filled with a lot of history.  It was originally built by the Hasmonians, later to be occupied by the Romans until their empire fell and the Ottomans turned it into a military fortress.

Once we made it down the mountain we went an hour north to the ancient city of Tzfat, which is known as the city of jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. In 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition, the resident jews living in Spain were given the option by the king and queen to convert to christianity or be excommunicated. Those that opted to flee relocated to Tzfat which is how it came to prominence in the jewish community.
Today in Tzfat was the group's first opportunity to try authentic Mediterranean cuisine, with lots of small kiosks serving falafel and shwarma.  These small restaurants lined the cobblestone walkways of Tzfat, and were accompanied by tiny shuks where people purchased homemade jewelry and mezuzahs.  Also featured on this street were sports memorabilia stores selling jerseys of famous Israeli athletes and art galleries featuring beautiful oil paintings done by the locals.  We got to visit the famous Safed candle factory and purchased a Havdallah candle for our group to use this coming Shabbat in Jerusalem. We sat in awe of the rustic, ancient Ha'Ari synagogue which was built by Rabbi Itzhak Guetah in the 18th century. Unfortunately we were not able to go inside because the synagogue was closed earlier than predicted.  

Tomorrow we will be meeting our soldiers and spending the day and night Bedouin village learning about Bedouin culture. We will also go on a camel ride and eat a traditional family style meal on the floor of the Israeli desert.  Stay tuned for more updates from Bus 1120!
-Danny Fanaroff Bus 1120