Going to Israel has always been on my bucket list. As a Jew, visiting the country means a lot to my culture and religion. Israel offers a free birthright trip for Jewish youth between the ages of 18-26 as a way to connect with the culture and history of the country and get to learn more about life in Israel.
This December I finally took the opportunity and went on my birthright trip, a 10 day long adventure with other Jews my age living on the West Coast. The trip was informative, fun, hectic, tiring, emotional and wonderful. I learned so much about my culture, religion, history and myself. I didn't expect to fall in love so much with Israel, and now I can't wait to go back.
We started the trip (after 30+ hours of travel!!) by visiting Caesarea, a beautiful coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea. The town is full of history, having been built by Herod the Great in about 30 BC. There were ruins spread all over the coast, but the best was a beautiful amphitheater that is still used for concerts and performances. There were some gorgeous shops and restaurants along the coast, but unfortunately we didn't have time to stop!
On the second full day of our trip we went to the Old Synagogue of Arbel in Northern Israel. Not much is left, but the site offered beautiful views, and our guide shared the story of Max Steinberg, an American Jew who was killed in the Israeli army.
Next, we went to a lookout overlooking the valleys of Northern Israel. The views were great, despite the massive rainstorm that stopped most of our hike!
Our next stop was Tzfat, one of the four sacred cities of Israel. Each sacred city represents a different element- earth, wind, water and fire. Tzfat is located high up in the mountains and represents wind. The cobbled streets are beautiful, and the shops are filled with art and local crafts. It is also the birthplace of Kabbalah, the ancient art of Jewish Mysticism.
Day three started with a nature walk in Northern Israel. We walked along a stream and saw a completely different landscape than what we saw along the Mediterranean. We could have been back in Portland! After that we went olive oil tasting, a first for me but a very cool experience! The olive oil was the best I've ever had, and I brought some home to help me in my hummus making!
We spent the next day in Tel Aviv, the city I was most excited to visit! On the drive from Haifa, where our hotel was, to Tel Aviv the water on the Mediterranean was extremely wild and choppy, and it started pouring the second we got out of our tour bus! We spent the day exploring the city, visiting markets, and seeing the site where Israel was founded. It was an incredible day, but I really wish we could have spent more time in Tel Aviv. I can tell that I love the city, so I guess now I just have an excuse to go back!
Israel celebrates Shabbat, the holy day of rest. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday Jews refrain from doing work and spend the day resting with family and friends and reflecting on the previous week. It is a great practice, and although taking a full day of rest each week isn't exactly in the cards for me, I would love to implement the self-reflection and introspection that it provides. The Friday night dinner with family and friends is also an important tradition I would like to embrace.
On our trip we spent the day in the hotel, resting and reflecting on the trip so far. It was a great opportunity to get refreshed during the second half of the trip. The rest of the update is coming soon!