No, I have not been hit by a rocket.

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Apologies for the lack of updates. I’ve had barely any time to think, let alone write, during the jam-packed itinerary of the last 10 days. Taglit was a very mixed experience and I’ll be writing about it in detail as soon as I get a chance. For now, just a quick update to allay concerns: Continue reading

Birthright Days 5 & 6: Shabbat in the Middle of Nowhere

Although our itinerary said we would be spending three nights in Jerusalem, this turned out to not be the case. Instead we were in a vaguely sketchy, halfway under construction hotel in what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, a town near the airport that is nearly a full hour from actual Jerusalem. Whatever, it wasn’t the first time the provided itinerary was misleading, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Continue reading

Birthright Day 4: Mt. Arbel and the Baha’i Gardens

I knew before boarding the plane to Israel that I would probably have a difficult time with the Birthright itinerary and travel style, so I’m actually pretty surprised that it took until Day 4 for me to start getting annoyed.

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We started off our day with a hike down Mount Arbel, still in the north of Israel. It was a beautiful view as we climbed down, and there were some very cool caves along the way along with a very impressive fortress built into the rock, but unfortunately we didn’t learn anything about them at all. It was around this time that I realized our tour guide might not be very good, and my opinion of him only went downhill from there. His whole schtick that had amused us for the first few days had worn off by then, and I felt like he wasn’t very knowledgable, or at least didn’t communicate clearly. When we were at the top of Mount Arbel waiting for some space to open up between us and the group in front of us (another constant problem with Birthright trips), he briefly told us that there were caves in the side of the mountain that people used to live in. But rather than tell us who these people were, when they lived there, or why (things I was quite interested to find out), instead he just shared some unrelated parable about a carob tree that I’m pretty sure I heard in Hebrew school when I was eight years old.

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It was a rough hike down the mountain — yes, it was mostly downhill, but the path was quite steep with slippery, unsteady rocks in certain areas and the cliff edges were complete drops. It was absolutely beautiful, though. Unfortunately we were rushed along the whole time — to the point where half the time when I stopped to take pictures I was told to hurry up, I was falling behind the group (even though that wasn’t true because a good chunk of the group was there with me taking pictures!) We were told we should be constantly drinking water (which is obviously important in the full sun when climbing a mountain), but we only took one five minute break on the two or three hour hike. I found it exhausting and frustrating at times. What’s the point of a grueling hike in 95 degree heat if you can’t even enjoy the view for a moment?

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Afterwards we had a quick ice cream at the stand by the bottom of the trail (quite a lucrative business concept they’ve got going on there) before bussing off to Haifa for about 5 minutes at the Baha’i Gardens. I wish I were kidding. It felt like a cursory visit, something we did just so they could say “See? We don’t only focus on Jewish holy sites!” but I feel like the hasty visit and extremely basic Baha’i 101 we got only emphasized it and made the site feel like a throwaway in our itinerary. I’d love to go back on my own and spend more time there, visiting the inner garden as well.

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After that ridiculous charade of inclusivity, we boarded the bus once again and drove to a small park where we would finally meet the seven Israeli peers who would be joining us for the next five days of our trip. There was a weird song and dance about this too: when we showed up to the park the Israelis were all already there, but we were led straight past them. Our guide and trip leaders kept us separated for like 10 minutes (while they introduced themselves and talked to the Israelis, I guess), so it was super awkward when we all finally met. Somehow they were all tall and attractive and seemed older than us, even though most were younger (I guess it’s the military that does it). Then since it was Friday, we were only given about 20 minutes for a very late lunch before the shops all closed for Shabbat. More rushing around!

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Birthright Days 1 & 2: Golan Heights

Terrible jetlag, worse than I expected for only a 7 hour time difference. After getting off the plane and hanging around the airport for several hours for ridiculous reasons, we boarded our tour bus for the next 10 days and headed north to Tiberias, which would serve as our home base for the first part of our trip. Despite being exhausted and going to bed before midnight (fairly early for me), I could only sleep for a couple hours.

After waking up at two or three in the morning, I tossed and turned for a while longer before giving up completely on sleep and going outside to watch my first Israeli sunrise from the porch of our hotel in Tiberias. Continue reading

What I’m Packing for 9 Weeks in the Middle East

I love reading other people’s packing lists, so here’s mine. I rarely stress too much about what to bring on a trip, and usually pride myself on packing light, but it was a real struggle this time. The Birthright recommended packing list is absolutely ridiculous (12 t-shirts and 14 pairs of socks for a 10-day trip? for real?) so obviously I wasn’t using that as a guideline, but I also don’t want to be the smelly backpacker kid if in fact there isn’t time to do laundry as they have tried to convince me. I also had to make sure that I brought “modest” clothing for more conservative areas, including items that will cover all my tattoos if I feel it’s necessary at some point. But it’s also going to be ridiculously hot (though cold in the desert at night!) and the cities are very cosmopolitan, so nice yet comfortable clothes are essential.

I struggled so much with making a mental packing list for the past few weeks (and shopping for a bunch of new clothes, something I rarely do before a trip, but I didn’t own much that fit the above parameters), that I didn’t actually sit down and throw it all together until today. I’m bringing far less than the organizers recommend but far more than I’m used to bringing on my solo trips — I had significantly more trouble cramming it all in than usual. I’m sure I still forgot something, but whatever it is I can buy it abroad. Continue reading

Back on the horse

Predictably, life got crazy and I stopped posting.

BUT! I finally have confirmation in the form of a long-awaited plane ticket that I will be heading off on my next trip in just over two weeks. I’m about to age out of the Birthright Israel program, which I’ve been meaning to take advantage of for years. This summer is my last chance, so I’m finally going, and I’ve extended my return flight home by two months to allow me to travel independently around the area after the initial trip has concluded. Continue reading