Taglit Birthright blog

Day 9 in Israel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 4:08 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Camilla Rothenberg '13

Our last day in Israel was bittersweet—mostly because of the black coffee and donuts. But, we had a great time in spite of knowing that tomorrow we would be dragging our luggage out of our rooms at some ungodly hour for the last time, and boarding our party bus/mobile home to the airport. We awoke in our Bedouin tent, very tired, backs cracking from our, not-so-long night sleep on the floor. Tal tried her best to rouse us quickly from our sleeping mats, and eventually with the promises of coffee and camels she coaxed us out into the freezing desert morning and onto our sunrise camel ride. Now, this was one of my favorite things we did in Israel. Camels are amazing creatures, perfectly suited for an environment where basically nothing and no one can live. That said, they’re also tremendously sassy creatures whose spirits have been tamed but certainly not broken. On our camel conga line, Tova and I strutted along on our camel Thor (our name) and watched the sunrise over the Negev desert. The great expanse of desert is truly awesome. So much of this country is still so wild and inhospitable, and yet completely breathtaking.

                However, the most moving part of the day for me was visiting Masada, the site of the last stand against the Roman Empire from the Jews in the time of the second temple. We were almost blown off the mountain by gale force winds, retreating into an underground well (I’m always impressed by the industriousness of these historic societies). Sitting inside their ancient structures and listening to their heroic and completely tragic story was incredibly moving. Sadly, on the eve of Passover, after realizing they would certainly all be killed when the Romans infiltrated the fortress, the last Jews in what is now Israel decided to kill each other to avoid sending their wives and children into slavery. Daniel high-lighted one of the most moving biblical passages I’ve ever heard. A passage from Ezekiel about the dry bones of Israel lying in a valley, apropos because of the massive valleys surrounding us from the mountaintop, was the last passage read by the Jews of Masada. As morbid an image as this passage paints at first, it also incites hope, as God says He will bring these bones back to life. This image finalized a picture in my mind of Jews as a people of survivors.  Not just in conflict with the Palestinians, or in the Holocaust, but beyond that for all of history. While other much larger and ostensibly more powerful nations have fallen, our seemingly small people has continued to prosper in whatever society has tried to swallow us.

                Leaving the mountain with pride, Tova and I confronted her fear of heights through our treacherous walk down. In order to distract from her shaking legs, we put on a variety of accents giving survival tips for living in the Negev. Our experience with camels earlier in the day proved helpful (did you know you can use their stomach as a sleeping bag?). And this has been a wonderful note on this trip. Our ability to move between these very serious realizations and more light hearted fun has helped this trip have a healthy balance. This walk was a great precursor to our time at the Dead Sea. We laughed together as we covered ourselves in mud, looking like a bunch of children pretending to be monsters and nearly inciting a mud fight.

                As I prepare to leave I’m thankful for the balance exemplified in this last day. We’ve laughed here, thought deeply, prayed, talked and some of us cried. And each of these emotions has built on the next moment, none undermining the next, but high lighting them. This country has so much to offer, and as our Israeli guide Tal says a few days ago, Israel dances and cries at the same time, and I’m happy to have achieved a sense of that here. And I’ll probably laugh and cry all the way home…


Day 8 Pictures

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 9:27 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Hanging outside in Jerusalem after studying at Mayanot's women's seminary.


A tour throughout the Kotel tunnels brought us to an ancient cistern.


In the Kotel tunnels.


Hanging out at the Kotel.


Our last day in Jerusalem


Group picture at the Kotel.


 Eating dinner at a Bedouin tent.

Day 8 in Israel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 9:23 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Eric Edelstein '13

Day 8 fatigue is a very real thing. Every part of us is vaguely tired but you’re not exactly sure why because total net exercise for the trip so far has consisted solely of casually strolling in large groups and eating significant quantities of falafel which despite popular belief, does in fact get old. Luckily for us, the sun in Jerusalem is quite bright and after snoozing the alarm clock around a dozen times it was it was way to bright to keep sleeping. So we grimly rolled out of bed, packed our bags realizing we had finished our last night in the Holy City, and joined a solid 150 Nigerians at the Hotel Breakfast. Lesson 1 of the day: Our Nigerian friends are actually our Christian counterparts, and their government, which pays for Muslim citizens to make the pilgrimage to the Hajj, similarly pays for their Christian population to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The jury is still out on where the Nigerian Jews are. 

After this enlightening breakfast that finally explained the overwhelming amount of diversity at the beautiful Jerusalem Park Hotel, we unceremoniously threw all our bags on the bus (apologies for all the fragile gifts for you folks at home that are now most likely broken) and made our way back toward the Old City. We guys broke off from the girls here, and proceeded to a dudes-only first stop at the Mayanot Yeshiva House that our very own Rabbi Gray taught at over a decade ago. None of us went in knowing exactly what to expect, but they opened up by dumping several bins of the best chocolate rugelach I’ve ever had (sorry Grandma, these guys really know what they’re doing). From there things got really interesting as we proceeded to break off into groups with about two of us Birthrighters with a Rabbi in training. As an important note, these Rabbis in training are really just guys our age, many of whom are American (i.e. Westchester County), who have decided to pursue Talmudic study just as we chose liberal art or whatever it is we do at Dartmouth. Talking with someone whose life is so similar to ours yet being taken in a completely different directions reminded me very strongly of the IDF soldiers that departed our group yesterday. If you were to look at our 20-something-year-old lives as a series of decisions, ranging in all degrees of minor to major, they are studying in Yeshiva while we cram for exams in Baker Library is probably only separated by a few choices. This realization that our environment really wasn’t that foreign helped me settle into the day and we proceeded to break down six or seven sentences in the Story of Joseph in English and Hebrew. Dave Bessel and I kept venturing off text with our soon-to-be Rabbi to ask personal questions, and learned why Chabad Rabbis aren’t into Payes despite the fact that it’s impossible to shampoo. Back to the text though, in traditional Yeshiva fashion, these hundred words or so took about 45 minutes to cover, but the insights and commentary from Rashi were very interesting. Having not read Rashi since Hebrew school at the beginning of high school, I felt a better appreciation for his ability to simplify text by using very few words, a skill I think we could all learn from. 

After several more helpings of rugelach we moved to their prayer room where Monday Torah reading was about to begin. Lesson 2: you don’t only read the Torah on Shabbat. Fancy that. I don’t think many of us expected to make any Aliyah this morning, but so it came to pass and after part of the story of Joseph and a few more small travelers’ prayers, and we ended up in a classic dance breakdown of Mazol Tov. Yeshivas don’t exactly go to the Disco Disco here, so I imagine they get most of their dancing here in services. To each his own. Continuing with Yeshiva traditions, we promptly fell behind schedule with the schmoozing and dancing but eventually ended up in a study room upstairs with one of their head Rabbis. For those of you back home, this was a special man. Picture a heavily bearded Woody Allen with an even more outdated collection of Jewish jokes and some sprinklings of wisdom. The discussion that followed was one of the most interesting explanations of faith and human relationships I’ve ever seen as shown through the reunion of Joseph and his brother Benjamin and later his father Jacob. I’m no Rabbi so I won’t go into any details here, but the simple ease with which the more seasoned Rabbi could bring us closer to his level of understanding when juxtaposed against the younger Rabbis, studying day and night to achieve this skill was very interesting to see. We did a quick Q&A with a guy our age who has just moved over from Chicago to see if Yeshiva was for him. He’s no Lebuvich, he dresses casually, parties pretty hard in Tel Aviv, and has a lot of doubts, but managed to spell out exactly how his educational path is giving him a greater sense of who he was. He also didn’t try to sell us any books or artwork at the end of his schpiel which was a nice breath of fresh air, but somewhere in there I think we guys all saw a bit of ourselves, trying to figure out what the hell this place means to us too. 

We left, got back on the bus and went to pick up the girls where they were doing their own Yeshiva learning. Finding ourselves not in mixed company for the first time since our river rafting trip to the Mikvah, we naturally filled the vacuum with some aggressively off-color jokes and general shenanigans. All good things have to come to an end though, so we picked the girls up, made out way to the Old City and as we were probably a least an hour behind schedule at this point, we headed right for the Temple Mount tunnels to begin our tour. I have to say this was one of the most interesting and heavy hitting parts of trip so far in the way that it merged the archeological history we have learned and the spiritual meaning of the temple we discussed. Walking underground along the ancient Temple walls and perfectly preserved roads and tunnels that made up this 2500 year old city of Jerusalem will stay with me for a while. Many believe that in one of those yet-to-be excavated tunnels lies the Ark of the Covenant, in a carefully hidden chamber of King Solomon’s design, meant to protect it if the Temple should ever fall (It did. Twice). At numerous points you could look next to the impressive walls and see blocks that fell from over 100ft above during the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, untouched in close to two millennia. They are there, exactly as they fell and remain some of the only relics we have of that history. I can’t do the surreal feeling of the tunnels justice so I can only hope that whatever pictures go up on the blog tonight put the meaning of that maze into perspective. 

My battery is dying here fast, but for posterity I should cover the rest of the day in short. We exited the tunnels and were given a good bit of time to visit the Kotel individually, and embrace the spiritual meaning we found in it. I wrapped Taffilin for the first time in years and really enjoyed the quiet time to reflect. We left the wall to do a quick circuit of the ancient Jewish Quarter, saw some more impressive walls (this city has an egregious amount of walls) and ended with a view of the Kotel one last time as the Channuka candles being lit for the third night, nicely coinciding with the Muslim call to evening prayer. Talk about a cultural crossroads. For all you parents out there, I estimate there are somewhere around 1,000 pictures of this and I really hope that some of these can help those of you at home visualize this moment.

Battery is now officially dead. Either that or all these pop-up warnings about losing data are for show, so I’ll sign off by saying we’re now headed down to the desert to visit a Bedoin village which I’m pretty sure is an oxymoron. It’s cold and sandy here and it seems that the entire Israeli Air Force is doing flybys overhead but I’m just pretending they are joy rides so we can all enjoy some old world dancing and camels with minimal chance of war. Scouting reports say we’re eating hummus again for dinner, life’s ok. With any luck, our 5:45 wake up for sunrise camel riding (that’s a thing here) won’t be so bad, but the day 9 fatigue sure promises to be.


Regards from the Holy Land,

Eric Edelstein


Day 8 in Israel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 9:22 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Hilary Campbell '14

Yesterday morning we woke up for our final day in Jerusalem.  The bus
felt much emptier without the soldiers as we headed to two Mayanot
seminaries, one for  the boys and one for the girls. The group
separated respectively and we each spent a few hours experiencing
Yeshiva-style learning, which focuses heavily on group discussion for
learning rather than lectures from the rabbi or teacher. Us girls
worked to decipher the Shma which, until then, I had spent countless
afternoons in Hebrew school reciting without really knowing its
meaning  (sorry Mom). The Rabbi, a Brooklyn native, compared Judaism
to having a relationship with G-d, which was a totally unique
interpretation. The Rabbi compared studying Torah to dating and
getting to know G-d and growing together through such practices. I
don’t plan to now sing prayers in a flirty manner or wear heels to
Synagogue, but I thought the Rabbi’s analogy was really interesting
and relatable.
We then went to the Kotel Tunnels which is a massive, ongoing
archeological dig that exposes parts of King Harod’s palace and the
Jerusalem of over 2,000 years ago. As someone who studies and has a
strong faith in science and logic, I’ve struggled to really “buy into”
a lot that we’ve been discussing. For me, the only way the Red Sea
could have parted is if there was a rare tsunami caused by a rare, but
plausible, earthquake. However, the tunnels showed physical evidence
of the stories of the Crusades and the repeated turning hands of
Jerusalem as told for thousands of years. Even I began to start
questioning my own doubt of the stories of the Torah, which is
something that  I never expected to happen on this trip. We literally
stood under the bridge that the Muslims built to reach the Temple
mount which King Harod carved into the mountains by Jerusalem. I still
don’t think that the Red Sea parted in the way the Torah says, but
these tunnels and other parts of this trip have really made me wonder
just how much evidence of the stories of Jewish history is out there.
After the tunnels we each got a chance to write down prayers and
reflect at the Western Wall. Friends and family who have visited this
site have told me of its intensity and bizarre power to draw up strong
emotions. I saw men and women crying as they sang or muttered their
most personal wishes to the area beyond the wall. I really wanted to
experience this emotion, but I was entirely distracted by the massive
wall between the men’s section of prayer and the women’s section. If
you’ve been there, you know that not only is the men’s section 3 to 4
times the size of the women’s, it’s also closest to the spot on the
wall which is considered the most holy and closest to the divide
between the physical and divine worlds. As someone who has grown up
fully believing my own ability to be equal to men, this was truly
offensive and seemed, to me, to taint whatever holiness is at the
Kotel. If there is a G-d, I don’t believe she or he would want this
divide or would want her or his people to place one gender above the
other. Some religious people will say that this divide is for other
reasons, but time and time again I have been distressed and
discomforted by what seems to be the blatant sexism rooted in Jewish
faith. The Wall is absolutely stunning, but the overt divide really
took away its beauty from my perspective and I was unable to feel the
power that my friends and family have spoken of.
We then quickly went and visited the Jewish quarter and learned from
Daniel about the significance of this plot of land, which is only 1/9
the area of Jerusalem. Again the reality that Israel has always been a
Jewish land, at some times more than others, was hit home. We were
lucky enough to climb up to a rooftop that overlooked the entire city,
and watch from there as the Kotel Menorah was lit for the second night
of Hanukah. In the distance we could hear Muslim prayer from the
Muslim quarter. I was overwhelmed by co-occurrence of these rituals
and began to wonder if this co-occurrence will ever be possible in all
of Israel and all of the Middle East.
From there, we drove to the Bedouin tents in the middle of nowhere in
the desert. We had traditional food sitting on cushions in one of the
tents and then had time to reflect upon the past few days in groups.
We then spent the rest of the night talking by a bonfire and sharing
stories. As typical Dartmouth students, we ended up discussing our
favorite Dartmouth traditions and funny stories from school. It was
pretty incredible sitting in the middle of nowhere, with several
people who I hadn’t e even met at school, and sharing a commonality
between us. One student compared the connection that we all undeniably
feel to the Dartmouth with the connection that he felt to the land of
Israel as a Jew. Frat basements and rampant public nudity aside, I
completely knew where he was coming from. Even as a reform Jew that
grew up pretty secular, I absolutely feel a connection to this country
and to the people who live here. If this connection is anything like
the one I feel to Dartmouth, I know that I’ll absolutely be returning
like those sketchy alumni in order to relive it over again. 

Day 7 Pictures

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:37 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Sitting inside Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.


Learning about a mass grave in Mount Hertzl military cemetary.


Closing session with our soldiers.


Saying goodbye to the soldiers.


"Let's do the Ali face!" --Daniel (the soldier pictured)


Day 7 in Israel

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:36 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by David Bessel '15

Shalom to the wonderful friends and family of Mayanot-233! For those keeping track, our group has moved from the splendid Golan Heights down through Tel-Aviv into the spiritual heart and soul of Israel: Jerusalem. After Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of reflection and introspection, we were finally emotionally ready to tackle the sobering, pivotal Yad Vashem, a museum devoted to remembering the innocent Jews that perished in the Holocaust. The museum itself, situated on a hill overlooking the marvelous city of Jerusalem, is a glimmering architectural achievement, an imposing granite-gray edifice with natural lighting illuminating the path of hope for the Jewish people. This path, however, could not have been paved without the blood of our ancestors fighting to preserve our tradition in the face of its most heinous opponents. Proceeding from the Holocaust museum, we walked further up the hill to the Mount Herzel Military Cemetery (for those of you back in the States, think of it as the Israeli Arlington Memorial). An active burial site for the brave men and women that lost their lives in the name of protecting the Jewish people and state, Mount Herzel hit particularly close to home for the Israeli staff and IDF soldiers in our group. Lush gardens coat the cemetery, a physical representation of the gift of peace that the brave soldiers of Israel fought to the very end to preserve.

As somber as Yad Vashem and Mount Herzel were, the Jewish people believe very strongly in the concept of redemption, of life blooming from destruction and of hope serving as a guiding light. We exited the cemetery with the grueling personal accounts of children our age dying in the line of duty still very much on our minds as we became ready to bid our farewells to the soldiers on our trip, a group of wonderful young men and women that had made an indelible imprint on our experience in Israel. What more appropriate a time and place to say our goodbyes than after witnessing, first hand, the price of freedom in Israel. Never before had we so fully understood the implications of serving for your country in a region as hostile to the Jewish people as the Middle East. However, on an even more poignant level, we came to terms with the fact that these soldiers, our friends, were risking their lives for each and everyone one of us, for the sustainability of the Jews in Israel and as a people. These soldiers, our friends, undertook this responsibility of defending Israel at an age when most of us at Dartmouth are most concerned about not getting too sloppy at frat parties and what color of boat shoes to wear. Humbling, to say the least.

With as rambunctious a group as ours, however, we couldn't dwell too long in gloom. With the new perspective we gained from Mount Herzel in tow, we celebrated and cherished the soldiers in our final moments with them on this trip. In a circle of unadulterated love (a common refrain for Birthright trips apparently), the Dartmouth kids and soldiers of Mayanot-233 shared some final thoughts, gooey goodbyes, and reflections of the journey we went on together as a whole. I know that when I look back on my experience with the soldiers, I certainly won't remember the cohort as a bunch of killing machines. I've come to realize, as everyone in our group from Dartmouth seemingly has, that these soldiers are just people, with nuances and quirks and desires and dreams and hope for a better tomorrow. I know that I will think of my time spent dancing sweatily at disco disco with the soldiers and at how well they knew how to bust a groove (I'm looking at you, Vitaliy). I'll recall the laughs I shared with the soldiers and the innumerable serious discussions I had with each and every one of them. Above all else, I'll forever cherish the precious little time I spent learning and growing from them. Much like falafel without tahini sauce, Birthright without our awesome soldiers simply would not have been complete.

After an obscene amount of posing in front of cameras, a slew of firm handshakes, and enough emotion to put "The Notebook" to shame, the soldiers finally rode off into the sunset (literally), beginning a new chapter in their lives and ours. We can only hope that our paths cross again one day. Until next time,

Day 7 in Israel

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:34 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Laura Bergsten '15

Today we woke up in our Jerusalem hotel, had breakfast along with a big group of Nigerians who were staying here as well, and headed out to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem was a much larger center than I imagined, housing many separate memorials, the Holocaust museum, and the Holocaust studies school. We began a tour of the Holocaust museum with an experienced tour guide –who spoke 6 languages—Mordachai. He brought us through the large, symbolically designed museum while recounting his own personal stories of family loss and past tours. The museum itself was fashioned on the edge of cliff, with one side showing scenes of Jewish life pre-Holocaust and the other side a window to the Jewish homes and communities in Jerusalem today, showing the path of the Jewish people from the 1920s to the present. The path we took led us through firsthand accounts of the rise of Nazism, the spread of anti-Semitic laws, and the systematic killing of Jews and other enemies of the state in Europe. We finished the museum and entered the children’s memorial, an eerie, moving building consisting of somber music, pitch-black darkness, and mirrors portraying lit candles uncountable times. A voice in the room spoke the names, ages, and nationalities of some of the 1.5 million murdered children of the Holocaust. We next went to the school to hear the account of Holocaust survivor Hannah, who was a good friend of Anne Frank from childhood until meeting her one last time in the camps. We then walked up the hill to Mt. Hertzl, the cemetery housing founder of the Zionist movement, Hertzl, the majority of the Israeli heads of state, and the Israeli soldiers lost in battle in the founding and protection of Israel. We heard moving stories of heroism and sacrifice at each part of the cemetery, but the final location we visited, which contains those most recently deceased, definitely hit closest to home. Tal, Daniel, and one of the soldiers joining us, Tali, each shared a story of a recently fallen soldier they knew and the emotion in each of them made the losses symbolized in the cemetery incredibly real. We then said farewells to the soldiers who’d traveled with us for the past five days. We all agreed that their presence on the trip immensely powerful and the bus ride to the market felt much emptier without them.

I think that today was emotional for everyone, and not in a way that was easy. Unlike any other day on this trip so far, I didn’t feel happy or comfortable or excited. I felt sad. And I believe that on a trip like this, that’s important. We always hear stories about Jewish history and some of the great tragedies throughout it, but knowing about tragedy and feeling it are different things. And today, watching friends cry as they remembered loved ones and hearing Hannah detail her plight, I began to really feel some of the most recent and ongoing tragedies of Jewish people and of Israel. Feeling the tragedy of the Jewish people as my friends, my family’s, and my own solidified the connection I felt with Judaism and the state of Israel.


Night 6 pictures

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:34 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Lighting the candles on the first night of Hanukkah. Hilary's got quite the smile. 


Playing Dreidel on the first night of Hannukah.




Sufganiot! Traditional jelly doughnuts eaten during Hanukkah.


Group picture with 3 Dartmouth Alumns.

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:32 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Nate Lewin '14

When I travelled through Europe with after high school, I would routinely check my back pocket to ensure that my wallet was still where I left it and that no pick pockets had had their way. I’ve also developed the unfortunate habit of compulsively checking my phone at any sort of lull in most social interactions (whether or not there is anything I need to see). These routine pocket checks gave me a bit of stress as I attempted to keep Shabbat to the fullest I could for the first time in my life as we stayed in Jerusalem this Saturday, as one of my roommates on the trip said—“If there’s ever a time to do it, it’s now.” Honestly it was nice not to worry about where my wallet had gone or what minutia is happening on the internet, but as I ran to my cell phone after Havdalah, desperately attempting to connect to the hotel wifi, I realized it’s not something I could do on a regular basis. (And that’s not even mentioning the hour long walk back to the hotel)

As I learned from my past trip to Israel with my family, Shabbat in Jerusalem is an experience, especially with a visit to the Kotel, and this was no exception. We left the hotel around 3:15 on Friday afternoon, taking a bus to the old city (a bus that we, unfortunately, would not see until Sunday). We walked around, learning about some of the sites from our tour guide, eventually stopping at a Chabad synagogue, where Rabbi and Chani explained to us the importance of welcoming Shabbat with the lighting of candles. We were then taken to a rooftop nearby with a gorgeous view of Jerusalem, especially the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. We learned about the spiritual connection of Jews to Jerusalem and the Western Wall in particular. After a lot of reflection, we made our way to the holy site.

The Kotel on Friday night is an odd mix of deep thought, reflection and study, and joyous celebration. You see Jews of “every make and model” (according to Rabbi). Some sat at desks towards the back with their faces buried in a prayer book, and many simply danced and sang in celebration of this holy site on this holy day. After a valiant attempt to lead a full Friday night service towards the back, Rabbi decided that we should join those celebrating. We joined a group of dancing soldiers, and quickly took control. We sang the few joyous songs we knew, led mostly by an incredibly enthusiastic, energetic (and potentially intoxicated) young Chabad rabbi. It is really an unbelievable experience to be a part of such genuine joy and celebration. After Rabbi realized that we would not be concluding the service before we needed to meet the rest of the group, we were given a moment to go closer to the wall to pray and leave our notes within the stones. We took our moments and left our prayers, and returned to the group for the long walk home.


Shabbat in Jerusalem

Monday, December 10, 2012 - 2:28 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Sasha Dudding '15

Yesterday for Shabbat, every Dartmouth student and soldier was divided into groups for lunch with a local family. I was with two other students, hosted by a very friendly couple and their 11-year-old son. After saying a few prayers, we began our meal. The home-cooked meal was wonderful, especially as compared to the hotel’s breakfast this morning. We had fresh pita, hummus, veggie quiche, rice with spices, fish, chicken, meat, and fruit salad. We also tried an amazing local desert called halvah, which was made of sesame seeds and coffee flavored. Over the meal, the couple talked about their backgrounds and life in Jerusalem. The woman was born outside of Detroit and moved to Israel shortly after high school, while her husband spent his youth on a kibbutz. They met through a local matchmaker and have been living in Jerusalem ever since. They spoke about the importance of Judaism, which was certainly an integral factor in their own lives. Their son’s school taught religion and Jewish history rather than science, literature, or many traditional secular subjects. It was interesting to learn about their attitudes toward their country and religion, and they were very receptive to our questions. The woman took us on a walk through the neighborhood and the Knesset rose gardens after lunch, along with the family’s adorable dog Daisy.

                The lunch was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. Aside from the delicious food, the conversations we had taught us about local lives and perspectives in more depth than a tour or museum could. Though much of the family’s well-meaning advice was not something I see myself following (move to Israel soon, get married as young as possible, etc), it was interesting to hear their strong opinions. They were also incredibly welcoming and constantly made sure that we felt comfortable and well-fed. Though many Dartmouth off-campus trips run the risk of bringing the “Dartmouth bubble” abroad with them, this was a unique opportunity to escape that bubble and immerse ourselves in the city around us.


Day 5 pictures

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 8:09 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Learning about the foundations of the State of Israel in Israel Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.


Group picture in front of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.  


Hanging out in downtown Tel Aviv.


Grabbing lunch in Tel Aviv.


Hanging out in Tel Aviv.


Day 5 in Israel

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 8:08 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Melissa Gordon '13

This morning I woke up at 6:40 to an alarm, followed shortly after by 3 wake up calls and a visit from the hotel staff. Maybe they were extra worried we weren’t awake after our night out at a dance club in Tel Aviv last night, but I actually woke up rested.  We had a great breakfast with non-instant coffee! Then we boarded the bus at 8am and went south to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. This stands on the site of the very first building in Tel Aviv. We heard a speaker and watched a video about the creation of the Israeli state, and then sat in the same room where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed and where the 32 minute meeting was held declaring the independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. I found it interesting to learn more details about exactly when Israel became a country and it was cool to see video footage and pictures of the land as a desert progressing into a developed city. I didn’t know about the UN voting to approve the map/plan of Israel, and that 33 nations approved, 13 disapproved, and 10 abstained from voting. It is an intriguing parallel to learn about a Declaration of Independence and people signing it so recently (1948), when I am used to seeing illustrations of our “forefathers” and John Hancock signing the US Declaration of Independence so long ago.  Another thing we learned was that Tel Aviv was so named after the German book by Theodor Herzel, making it allegedly the only city in the world named after a book. Tel means old mountains/ hills, and Aviv is spring; the name and place unite old history and new life. Looks like the coffee really did its job as I was alert and focused enough to remember all this!  

Then we walked to Carmel Market which has several streets lined with street vendors, full of people shopping. Esty and I first walked down the mellower street with artists selling their work (that’s a rule- the vendors must be artists selling their own work). I liked the pomegranate themed jewelry and bowls. I bought vanilla-peach scented soap in the shape of cheese for my sister. Then I tried a new food that Esty recommended which I don’t remember the name of but it is flat round bread with common spread cheese, spices, and couscous, and also a freshly pressed carrot-mango juice. I also bought a cup of pomegranate seeds to eat. We walked down the other, more crowded, street with many more food vendors and more crowded stands with clothes and less artistic items for sale. We ran into fewer fellow birthright friends than I expected, recognizable by our bright orange lanyards, and we tried free samples of olive oil (with bread), dates, and falafel. I practiced my Hebrew by saying Thank you, Todah, as well as excuse me, which I’ve now forgotten. Maybe the coffee wore off. I found it special to be in Tel Aviv with Esty since it is somewhere important to her and where she lived for a term, so now I can understand her life a little better.

I am also enjoying getting to know the group better, and especially the Israelis who have joined us. While I understand the necessity of having a strong and ready military for the existence of Israel, and that the goal is to maintain peace, I have struggled a little with the idea of all young adults being part of a group that is ready to engage in non-peaceful activities. I know that reality is not my ideal world, but I wish there were a way for everyone to be raised as part of a peace for all group, instead of ready to engage in war. And maybe some would call the military a group for peace. I know I sound like a naïve hippie but these are my reflections on and struggles with the idea of what all people my age must take part in here. I liked being in the city, which honestly did feel similar to other foreign cities and street markets I’ve been to. Now we are preparing for Shabbat in Jerusalem which I expect to be a very Jewish and Israeli feeling event and which I think will be very special.  


Day 5 in Israel

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 8:08 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Dalia McGill '16

After a fun night out in Tel Aviv we woke up this morning to a nice Israeli breakfast at the Galil Hotel. Following breakfast we got on the bus once again and headed over to the Independence Hall. We were greeted by a very nice lady who talked to us about the Independence Hall and we watched a short movie. Then we went into the room where Israel’s declaration of Independence was signed. It was a very interesting and informative visit. The lady also shared a personal story about her daughter, who is going to be in the army next year. She explained to us that nobody wants to send their child to the army, but people understand that Israel would not exist if that did not have to happen.

After visiting the Independence Hall we walked through Tel Aviv to get to the Carmel Market. We had a couple hours to explore the place on our own and it was great. They sold everything in that place; fish, bracelets, scarves, spices, olives, iphone cases, everything you could imagine was being sold there. It was also refreshing to be in a place surrounded by the people of Tel Aviv, and to get an idea of how life in Tel Aviv really is. Many people were buying food, probably for tonight’s Shabbat Dinner. I bought this really great carrot juice. I really enjoyed exploring the market, and I wish we had more time. But now we are on our way to Jerusalem, which I know will be amazing.

Day 4 Pictures

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 7:55 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Sitting down to learn about Kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism.


Sitting in a historic temple in the holy city of Tsfat.


Hanging out in a 500 year old home underground in Tsfat.


Night out in Tel Aviv.



Day 4 in Israel

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 7:51 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Jill Horing '15

For our fourth day we visited the holy city of Tzfat. Before Tzfat many of our learning experiences centered around the history and current political and militaristic situation of Israel. We visited ancient ruins and bunkers and the borders with both Lebanon and Syria. We furthered our understanding of the military conflicts when our group was joined by eight Israeli Defense Force peers. While I learned a lot from these days and enjoyed all of our visits, Tzfat offered something that I felt was previously missing- a glimpse into the spiritual side of Judaism. Israel serves as the holy land for the Jewish religion and a visit to a contemporary Kabbalistic art gallery helped me feel how my religion connected me to the history and conflicts of this otherwise foreign land.

Our arrival in Tzfat was greeted by a terrible rainstorm and while we were unable to walk around and fully take in the beautiful city, we quickly took refuge in a very interesting sort of art gallery. The artist, Avraham, told our group his story of growing up in Michigan and finding meaning in his religion through the study of Kabbalah. He explained to us some of the core concepts, including the belief in a higher being, the idea that everything happens for a reason, and the importance of controlling your mind in order to control your emotions. He spoke of the value our religion places on giving rather than taking. His life work was to create art to represent the propositions of Kabbalah. He explained a few of his paintings to us and gave us an opportunity to buy replicas.

After leaving Avraham’s gallery, we visited two synagogues in Tzfat and heard anecdotes about Judaism that furthered our understanding of the core belief in kindness and giving. These experiences reminded me of the pride I felt in being Jewish and allowed my religion to connect me to those in the holy land. Avraham’s compelling and passionate explanation of Kabbalism and his visual representations of it have inspired me to want to learn more about the spiritual side of Judaism rather than focus on how it manifests itself in politics and the news.

Day 4 in Israel

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 5:48 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Paul Finkelstein '13

Greetings from the holy city of Tzfat! Tzfat is the burial place of Ha’Ari, or Rabbi Isaac Luria who founded contemporary Kabbalah, making it one of four holy cities in Israel (the others being Jerusalm, Hevron, and Tiberias where we were two night ago).

We have been told since we began our journey in Israel that rain is considered a blessing in this part of the world. If that is the case, then today was the most blessed day of my life. After about an hour of driving through the rain, Shimshon, our amazing bus driver, deftly maneuvered our bus up a mountain to the city of Tzfat.

We began our day at the art gallery of Avraham Loewenthal. Avraham was originally Robert from Detroit, but made Aliyah to Israel after becoming infatuated with Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. He spoke to us about the Kabbalah for about 20 minutes. Kabbalists believe this life is temporary and tries to explain man’s urge in the finite world to experience as much enjoyment as possible. Avraham spoke of his spiritual journey to discover the “bliss” of Kabbalah. According to him, we cannot even begin to understand the miracles that we experience on a daily basis. Our journey through Israel is just one of those miracles. Avaraham’s artwork was beautiful and each piece has some significance to Kaballah. I am sure many of you will have the opportunity to view his art in person as many of us patronized Avaraham’s gallery.

By foot, we wove through the old cobblestone streets of Tzfat, which were quickly becoming more like waterways than roads as the rain continued to pound us. We made our way to two synagogues where we listened to Rabbi Gray speak about Kabbalah and its relevance in the intellectual Chabad movement and the broader world of Chasidism. In addition to having a chance to dry off and enjoy stories from Rabbi Gray and our tour guide Daniel, we also got to see some of the beautiful architecture in these old synagogues. The color blue was featured prominently throughout, as it is the unofficial color of Tzfat.

Our next stop was Safed Candles, where we learned about how to make candles and the significance of the different numbers of braids in each candle. Once again, many of us will be bringing home candles and will be able to explain their respective meanings to you (Hi, mom!).

We then split up the males and females for our final major event in Tzfat concerning mikvahs, or ritual baths. The girls went to a museum featuring a 500 year old mikvah and had a discussion about their purpose and merits. The boys went to the working mikvah, which was only allowed to be used by males. We climbed down the stairs of Tzfat to the mikvah, which was the same one used by Ha’Ari. By this point we were already soaked from the rain as our jackets and umbrellas were futile, but the final 60 stairs or so had completely flooded. We were no longer walking to the mikvah, but rather wading through a raging river.

Many of us were hesitant to use the mikvah, but in the end 12 of us decided to take part. This particular mikvah was a cave carved into the hills of Tzfat. We each gave a 10 shekel donation and received a towel. We entered the first room, which was a locker room of sorts. We all disrobed down to our birthday suits and continued to the next room which is where the actual bath was located. Carved into the ground, it was just about the size of a Jacuzzi. One of the locals coached us through the process. One-by-one, we entered and dunked our heads below the water seven times. As I waited, the anticipation grew. When my time came to step in, the water was startlingly cold as I watched it flow in from an underground spring. I took a big breath and plunged my head below the water. It was so cold that I found it extremely difficult to breathe every time I surfaced and I nearly lost count as I attempted to count to seven in Hebrew.

It is said that men are to partake in mikvahs to regain spiritual purity or to achieve rebirth. As we dried off in the “locker room,” redressed, and then went outside to drink hot tea, the surreality of the situation hit me. We looked out over the valley below us with rainwater streaming down from almost every direction. There were miracles all around us and this holy city, the home of Kabbalah, opened my eyes to appreciate that. I look forward to our coming days in Israel, but this one will be hard to top.

Day 4 in Israel

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 1:51 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Ali Essey '13

We spent today in the holy city of Tzfat. The city is known for its kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. We spent our time in the old city, and it was incredibly beautiful. You could feel the spirituality throughout the streets, which was only enhanced by the rainstorms of biblical proportions we experienced there.

                Upon arrival we went to an art studio and spoke to the artist. He had made aliyah around our age after discovering his appreciation for jewish meditation and mysticism. He shared his enthusiasm for that specific portion of jewish teachings with us, and taught us how his art work connected to his understanding of one’s ability to reach a higher level of religious and social fulfillment. His art depicted kabbalistic symbols and his interpretations of jewish traditions like the blowing of the shofar. I was surprised by how inspired the group seemed to be after his talk; almost everyone seemed to leave with a desire to learn more.

                After visiting the art studio, we separated into two groups: one of girls and one of boys. The boys went with Rabbi Gray to a special mikvah, at which only boys were permitted. First, the girls went to see a very old mikvah (at least 500 years) under one of the houses in the town. Then, we talked with Chani about the way women use the mikvah in Orthodox Judaism. Together, we started to scratch the surface of the incredibly complicated body of Jewish laws about family purity. We discussed how married women go to the Mikvah to repurify themselves each month and after giving birth, delving into the implications of the practice. Over my sophomore summer I wrote a paper about these purity laws;     the discussion today brought my questions to the surface again: did this mean women’s ability to reproduce yielded them inherently impure? What was the foundation for this body of laws and why was there no corresponding practice for men? Chani gave us plenty to think about. To be completely honest, from the bit that I’ve learned, I find a lot of these laws pretty ostracizing. I doubt I will ever ritually go to the mikvah. I wish there weren’t such extreme gendered differences within traditional Judaism. I know that plenty of women are happy to fulfill this mitzvah, and I don’t mean to offend anyone who practices or believes they will in the future. But as a modern woman, I am starting to have a hard time reconciling these rituals with the ones I choose to practice as part of the same religion.

                Chani chose to close her discussion with us by requesting that we think further about the topic, openly ask any questions, and consider, if nothing else, going to the mikvah on the eve of our weddings. That day is certainly far off for me, but after all of the criticism and discomfort I expressed above, I found myself earnestly considering completing that ritual before getting married. Adding a spiritual purity to such an important day is relatively appealing.


Day 3 Pictures

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 7:50 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Playing human Bingo with the Israeli Soldiers joining our trip for the next 5 days.


Doing and ice breaker with an Israeli soldier.


New friends


Learning about the history of the Israeli-Syrian Border.


Group photo at the Banyas Waterfall


Banyas Waterfall


Jeeping in the Golan



Just a little muddy.

Day 3 in Israel

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 7:42 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written Marissa Wizig '14

Our day today was largely centered around the concept of borders. We started by meeting up with the Israeli soldiers who will be with the group for the next few days, and visiting Mitzudat Coach. This former army post now serves as a memorial to those who died there defending Israel from the Syrians. We then headed to the Banyas Spring for a hike and a view of the waterfall, and ate lunch in Kiriat Shmnona. In the afternoon, we went jeeping in the Golan Heights. While we were driving the jeeps around, the tour guides pointed out Lebanon and Syria in the distance. While Syria seemed a safe distance away, albeit ominously located past the valley between two mountains, Lebanon was much closer- we could even see some Lebanese towns. Our guides gave us the background on how these borders came to be solidified, and explained that part of the path we had been jeeping on was actually the pre-1967 Israeli border.

                We finished the day by visiting the kibbutz at Misgav Am. For me this was the most significant part of the day, and perhaps of the entire trip thus far. Upon arrival at the kibbutz, which is located on top of a mountain, we all filed out of the bus and took some pictures of the beautiful sunset over the valley. While we all knew that we were somewhere near the Lebanese border, I don’t think many of us realized just how close we actually were. We were led inside to a meeting room that overlooked the valley, and introduced to Joseph, one of the leaders of the kibbutz. Joseph explained that he was originally from Holland, but had lived at Misgav Am for several decades. He ran us through the history of the kibbutz. Since its founding in 1945, the community has had a number of encounters with the Lebanese people, who reside in the valley directly below the kibbutz. It turns out that the fence around the kibbutz forms a section of the Israel-Lebanon border, and that the beautiful valley that we had eagerly photographed is almost entirely part of Lebanon. When the kibbutz was first founded, relations with the Lebanese village in the valley were not necessarily bad. Joseph described them as a “friendly enemy”. However, as the years went on, terrorists from Jordan came to Lebanon and began to establish themselves in the valley. They started to attack the kibbutz, using mortars and rockets and physical violence. In one devastating assault, terrorists kidnapped children from the Kibbutz and held them hostage until the Israeli army came to rescue them. One two year old boy was killed, simply because he was scared and couldn’t stop crying.

                Eventually the Israeli army went into Lebanon to try to suppress the terrorists. When they retreated in 2000, Hezbollah filled in the areas that they had left, and now controls the valley. In the past twelve years, they have continued to terrorize the region, launching attacks on Misgav Am, and the larger city of Kiriat Shmona (where we ate lunch).While things are relatively quiet right now, it is only a matter of time before they could strike again. Misgav Am is really the first line of defense for Israel, and life there is hardly easy.

                Experiencing Misgav Am really made me realize just how close the threat of terror and violence is to Israelis every single day. The stories you hear about Hezbollah on the news don’t seem as threatening when you’re thousands of miles away in America, but when you’re standing just a few hundred feet away from their strongholds, when you see their cars driving in the streets, and when you witness the destruction they have caused, it suddenly becomes a lot more scary. I really started to think about the threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel, to the innocent Lebanese civilians, and to the stability of the Middle East. As we left the Kibbutz, we heard the people in the valley, some of whom may very well be terrorists (and most of whom are at least sympathetic to Hezbollah), starting to pray. It was very eerie to hear their voices rising out of the valley, a constant reminder of their presence. Today reminded me what we are fighting for as Jews and as believers in a world free from terrorism.



Day 3 in Israel

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 7:40 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Kayla Kesslen '15

Over the past few days, we explored Israel’s Northern borders and have become familiar with their conflicts with both Lebanon and Syria. After hearing varying perspectives and viewing these areas up close, Mayanot decided it was time to reflect on our experiences. Last night, we divided up into small groups, facilitated by our trip leaders, for a tie-in session about the past few days.             

                After spending the afternoon at Misgav Am Kibbutz, the Lebanon border was on all of our minds, as the Kibbutz sits directly along the Israel-Lebanon border. While our group coined this border “dormant” in comparison to Israel’s other borders, we still found it hard to understand how people would feel comfortable settling their families in such a threatened area. We discussed how living in America, we rarely feel threatened by world conflicts. September 11th was the only time America’s security has been directly endangered by a foreign power in my lifetime. Although, we have fought wars since then, the conflict has not been close to home. Resultantly, I, along with the majority of Americans, do not feel affected by these security issues on a daily basis.

                As we know, Israelis are not as fortunate; their conflicts are all take place in their own backyard. While we might not understand what it’s like to live in areas of conflict, it is a constant reality for Israelis. The Golan Heights is not recognized as part of Israel, yet it does not even remotely feel like occupied territory. We cannot fathom the idea of living in such an unstable area, yet Israelis have become somewhat desensitized to such threats, as they are inescapable parts of their daily lives.  

                This prompted discussion about compulsory service, and why it is so successful in Israel, but would not be widely received in America. After talking with the eight soldiers who joined our group today, we began to better understand the Israeli perspective on this issue. While many of these soldiers are excited for their service period to end, they feel strongly that they have an obligation to help protect their country. Their sense of national pride is overwhelming, in comparison to my own. While I do love America, my status as an American citizen is often something I take for granted.  Israelis, however, do not have that same luxury, as their citizenship is something they defend everyday. I am thankful to be so fortunate, and believe it is important to recognize and understand the difference between my life and that of my Israeli peers. I am looking forward to getting to know these soldiers even better over next few days and learning more about their lives.


Day 3 in Israel

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 7:30 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Julie Shabto '14

 Today, our eight soldiers joined us! We first did ice breaker activities with the soldiers at Mitzudat Coach and then paid our respects to the 19 soldiers buried there, who were killed in a Syrian attack, by leaving stones on the memorial. We continued on to a short hike along the Banyas River, working up an appetite for our lunch in the city of Kiryat Shmona. As we ate, we chatted with the Israeli soldiers—their English is so much better than my Hebrew will ever be—and got to know them on a basic level.

Next, we went jeeping through the Golan Heights. Although it didn’t rain today, some of us managed to get pretty muddy. We stopped at a few points for some beautiful views, and the jeeping guides pointed out the Lebanese and Syrians borders, which we could see from a distance… After jeeping, we saw the Lebanese border up close at the Misgav Am Kibbutz, which literally sits on the border of Israel and Lebanon, where Hezbollah is positioned. We heard a male member of the kibbutz, Joseph, speak about living on the Lebanese border during the past decades, where rockets fired by Hezbollah occasionally land. As we walked back to the bus, we could hear the call to prayer in Lebanon and see cars in the street, possibly driven by members of Hezbollah.

For some reason, it took until today for me to really grasp that the Israelis in the army—like the soldiers that joined us and will be with us for the next 5 days, or those that defended the post at Mitzudat Coach and were killed, or my cousins in Israel who I have visited several times—are our age and are just like us yet their lives are so different. While we have spent the last few years at Dartmouth worrying about what classes to take for our majors and planning our off terms, they have been devoting their lives to defending the state of Israel. They are thinking about their country on a daily basis while I will admit I am mostly thinking about myself. The soldiers joining us changed out of their uniforms and have been hanging out with us like nothing is different. I had a whole conversation with one of the female soldiers about nail polish colors and the silly names they have; I learned they cannot have colored nails while serving. The Israelis have the same interests as we do, they hope to study similar things, and they enjoy plowing through mud in a jeep just as much as we do, but as 19- and 20-year olds living in Israel, the reality is they have to be in the army. Being with the soldiers today has given me a newfound respect for them and understanding of their lives. I am really looking forward to spending the next few days with them.


Additional Day 2 Pictures

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 7:16 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Cloudy day on the Syrian Border  


At a former Israeli bunker on the Syrian Border.


"The Six Day War" map inside a bunker.


Night out in Tiberias!

Day 2 Pictures

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 3:56 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


Taking a "ferry" to go learn about tracking migratory birds in Israel


Our ferry driver, Camilla.


A Eurasian Kingfisher


Day 2 in Israel

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 3:47 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Eli Derrow '15

Today was a very eventful day! After eating a delicious breakfast at the Kibbutz, we headed to a nature preserve to see different species of beautiful birds that have migrated to Israel. In particular, we saw thousands of Eurasian Cranes on the preserve. It was very interesting that although the farmers dislike the birds during their planting season, they continue to feed the cranes with corn. This is to try and keep the cranes in a secluded area, where they are safe from predators and continue to flourish in order to help clean their fields in future months. During our time on the nature preserve, a guide talked to us about how they tag different birds to determine their migratory paths. As an example, the guide brought out a King Fisher that migrated from Asia and showed us how it was tracked. It’s great that Israel has such beautiful conservation and scientific grounds for nature.

After the bird tour we went to an olive oil producer, who showed us how environmentally friendly many companies in Israel are. He showed us how he makes different products, such as hand wash and lip balm, from his olives, and he makes sure that he does not waste any parts of the olives. The owner continued by talking about his views on Israel. I found it very intriguing and inspiring how he was only concerned about making a better tomorrow instead of concentrating on the past.

Following a short hike up a mountain to visit an Israeli bunker, the group headed out to dinner at a fantastic Italian restaurant. After filling up on different pastas and pizzas, the group took a break and hung out in the city of Tiberias. It was definitely a fun filled day that showed us the beauty and history of Israel!


Day 2 in Israel

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 11:41 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

The Golan Heights: An Exploration

Written by Ethan Portnoy '14

I think it is safe to say that our second day in Israel was an action-packed, diverse, and reflective one. After a full night sleep, the day officially began with a hearty breakfast on the Kibbutz that consisted of eggs, toast and delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. With full stomachs, we then headed out on our coach bus for a scenic view of the Sea of Galilee, before ultimately arriving at a nature preserve in the Golan Heights in the Chula Valley. Although there was a bit of rain along the way, the weather conveniently cleared up in time for our arrival. We all enjoyed a bus tour of the preserve, in which we learned a bit about Israeli wildlife, with a special emphasis on some of the bird species present. Our guide informed us that more than 300 bird species call the preserve their home, including the Eurasian crane which, interestingly enough, is the only crane species that is not endangered. We saw thousands of these creatures flying around, feeding on corn seeds, and relaxing on the pond. In addition to the bus tour, we also had the privilege of listening to one of the workers that conducts research on bird populations, who explained the process of tracking the birds across the world as well as more general migratory patterns. To help demonstrate, he actually caught a small bird to show us!


Following the tour, we proceeded to an olive oil factory. On the way, our tour guide Daniel provided us with some background on the first 20 years of Israel’s existence. He helped clarify some of the details of Israel’s six day war, as well as Israel’s geopolitical relationship with Syria throughout history. We were greeted by the owner of the factory upon arrival, who began with an explanation of the production and distribution process of his premium extra virgin olive oil and revolutionary skin care products derived from the olive waste produced. He followed up his discussion with a short reflection on the political situation with the Palestinians, in which he compared the way in which the greater Jewish community handled the “refugee problem” created following World War II and the way that the Arab community has been handling the “refugee problem” created by the establishment of the Jewish state. He used this contrast to illustrate how, in his opinion, the Arab community seeks to vilify the Jews at the expense of the livelihood of their fellow Arabs, by perpetuating the existence of the refugee camps in the Middle East. He ended with an emphasis on the future, as opposed to the past. Irrespective of history, the Palestinians and Israelis exist right now, so according to him, both sides need to focus on bettering their lives in the moment and for future generations, but not at the expense of the other.

To conclude the afternoon, we traveled to Mount Bental. Here, we weathered the elements of wind, rain, and fog and took a tour of an actual bunker used by the Israelis. It provided us with a real-life, physical representation of the harsh reality that Israel, since its inception, has been forced to defend itself literally in order to continue to survive. For me, although I knew some of the content that Daniel covered while in the bunker, his story of a wounded IDF soldier that was helping to hold the line during Syria’s surprise attack that began the Yom Kippur War made me reflect a bit more on the situation and what life might be like as an Israeli citizen my age. I guess I should say that prior to this experience, we helped prepare for the arrival of 8 Israeli soldiers that will be joining us tomorrow with a special activity. We all wrote down a thought that crossed our minds, and upon compiling and categorizing our papers, we came to realize quite clearly how many of us had written down a comment that concerned ourselves, as opposed to our family, our country, and our world. This, which was further reinforced by the stories told in the bunker, helped me contextualize my existence in a sense, as well as how I have perceived Israel. Despite being similar in age, the reality is that Israeli soldiers endure a very different life than what I am accustomed to. Their obligations to the state of Israel and to defending its existence on a daily basis for a minimum of 2-3 years serve as a stark contrast to my daily concerns and thoughts as a student at Dartmouth. For me at least, and I think for many other fellow students on the trip, the demonstration with the sheets of paper was rather powerful in helping me begin to understand the mentality of an Israeli soldier and in doing so, made me question how I’ve gone about living the first 20 years of my life.

Additionally, I think a special shout-out to our bus driver, Shimshon, is in order, who masterfully navigated the steep, windy roads of the Golan Heights during the inclement weather and got us all back to the Kibbutz in one piece!

Lastly, from a personal perspective, after taking a bit of time to reflect a bit during the bus ride back to the Kibbutz, I enjoyed the diversity of the activities today , which I believe provided a healthy balance of religion, spirituality, politics, history, and nature. It is definitely important to keep in mind how expansive Israeli culture is, and how the trip, because of its multifaceted nature, can resonate with you on so many different levels. Prior to coming on the trip, I expected to primarily gain an enhanced Jewish identity and a greater perspective through my experiences at places like the Western Wall. However, after some of the experiences I had today in the Golan Heights, I’ve come to realize how I can connect to, and learn from, Israel in so many other ways. Israel is truly a magnificent place that boasts a rich, flourishing culture and diverse geography. I am starting to see firsthand how there is so much to learn in so little time. It’s a shame we are here for just 10 short days.

Day 2 in Israel

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 11:40 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Jay Dumanian '14


“What is that thing?” Someone said. “It looks like a beaver.” Someone else: “Yeah, it’s a beaver!”

“While it looks like a beaver, that is obviously not a beaver. Of course there are no beavers in Israel,” said our guide.

Shows how much we know, I suppose. After arising from a full night’s sleep at last at the kibbutz, and eating a delicious breakfast of eggs, cereal, fruit and vegetables, we had taken our bus to the Agmonha Hula nature preserve and birdwatching center. Our guide, Nir, pointed out to us the hordes of cranes scattered around the preserve, and we learned about the massive bird feeding operation underway. Tens of thousands of birds are fed every day, in an effort to save crops in the region from the hundreds of millions of migratory birds that travel through Israel each year. We then learned about bird tracking and tagging- researchers strung up huge nets all around this preserve to catch and then band birds. Collaborating with other researchers in Africa, Europe, and Asia, they hoped to, over time, get a better and better picture of the migratory patterns of these kingfishers, cranes, and raptors, to name a few.

After the preserve, we went over to the Beit Habad olive oil production factory, and received a quick lesson in the virtues of olives and their products, as well as a somewhat political lecture on the Palestinian situation. After touring the production process and trying out all sorts of olive oil creams, soaps and balms, we piled back in to the bus, which quickly filled up with the smell of lemon and olive. Another lunch of shwarma and falafel found us in Katzrin, and also gave us our first interaction with a group of Israeli soldiers. Our last stop of the day brought us to the Har Bental Israeli military bunker system. These fortifications had seen heavy fighting in the frontlines the Yom Kippur war, as heavily outnumbered Israeli troops fought off hundreds of Syrian tanks. Unfortunately, it had begun pouring rain just as we were pulling in, so our views of the Syrian border were cut short. However, the chance to explore the bunker system and hear stories from the war was incredibly powerful; we stood in the same places that Israeli soldiers, at our age, fought and died for their country and homeland.

While the weather may have taken a turn for the worse today, we saw a side of Israel that I, at least, really did picture when I thought about my upcoming trip. The abundance of wildlife was amazing to see, as was the wide open farmland and marshes.

I constantly find it amazing to be in a land that has been so contested and fought over and debated, even within my relatively short lifetime. We learned from our guide Daniel that some of our time today was spent in land that is technically occupied Syrian territory under international law- the “border” that we would have seen in better weather conditions is in fact a ceasefire line and not a true border, which are only formed when there is peace. Today, I found myself engaged in wonderful conversations about this and many other topics, ranging from why someone made aliyah, to mandatory military service, to why US celebrities deserve more privacy. While I’ve heard from friends who have been on Birthright that one of the best parts to them was conversations just like these, I am still amazed at all I have learned, discussed and debated in the last 12 hours. Maybe it’s the fact that we finally got some needed sleep, or the delicious coffee we just drank at Har Bental, but I am excited to see what there is still to come in the next 8 days.


Flight and Day 1 in Israel

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 11:37 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by David Sayet '13

Before the flight took off I became engaged in a fascinating discussion with the man on my left and the woman on my right. The man was a 23 year-old Orthodox Jew practicing Yeshiva. The woman was an old, well-spoken, Liberal Atheist Israeli who resides in New Jersey. As I talked to the man informally about politics while the plane taxied, the woman intruded our conversation immediately saying, “what do you think about gay marriage?”

The next three hours consisted of us breaking down and assessing the problems of abortion, gay marriage and assisted reproduction through an amiable and intense discourse. These conversations stretched my mind, by engaging with viewpoints that I had never had the chance to discuss with in a back and forth dialogue of such a high intellectual level. Both the woman and the man were both so well versed in all aspects of Judaism.

 The woman and myself also asked the man about his studies and his customs. When I discovered that he only studied the Torah the liberal woman to my right became aggravated. Then he became aggravated, telling her that all that matters is the one truth and that is the Torah. In response to them both I pulled out one of the books in my backpack. Life of Pi. What is this about? They both asked. “It does not matter the religion of the boy in the story,” I told them. “He struggles with choosing a religion and in the end he does not choose. All that matters is that he looks for g-d.” “He connects with g-d.” Said the man. “Exactly,” I replied.

The man then went to pray in the back of the plane. I waited a bit and then decided to follow the Rabbis and young Yeshiva boys to the back of the plane to observe their prayer. I had never before seen this and asked one of the Rabbis to explain. I found it fascinating and continued to socialize with anyone on the plane who was willing to talk. I ended up talking to a bunch of women on “Birthright for Moms” for two hours. A group of mothers who travel to Israel to reinvigorate their connection to Judaism and bring this renewed faith back to their household. With five hours left in the flight I decided to return to my seat to get some rest. However, I had already decided that this was the most interesting, enlightening, and entertaining flight of my life.

Upon landing I felt an immense excitement despite the lack of sleep. All of my conversations on the plane had exponentially increased my sense of spiritual connection with the trip and my desire to dive right into the heart of Israel!

The group travelled to Caesarea, an old Roman ruins town north of Tel Aviv. Think Ancient Rome, meets Parthenon, meets Jerusalem, meets a beautiful Miami coastline. In the middle of the city sat an old reconstructed theater.

As I walked through the theater I immediately noticed a group of Africans dancing in the middle. The rest of group had already sat down to listen to one of our tour guides, however my friend Zack and I convinced one of our other tour guides, (the great and marvelous Tal!) to let us go down and join the dancing. Within moments, around half the students danced hand in hand with a bunch of Kenyans to Hakuna Mattata. This experience was unforgettable! I waved good-bye to one of the men I had danced with and we both said “no worries!” as we parted ways. It made me realize how many people, from so many cultures find Israel to be such a sacred place! Quickly after a group of people from India joined us in the theater as well!

After Caesarea we travelled to several other destinations. All gorgeous and just as inspiring and breathtaking. However, the airplane ride and dancing to Hakuna Mattata definitely stand out as memorable times on the trip so far, and I can’t wait for more to come!


For now, Hakuna Mattata everyone!

Day 1 Pictures

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 2:34 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray


On our way!


On the plane to Israel


Welcome to Israel! Grabbing our bags to head out.


On the bus and excited for our first stop in Caesaria!


The group sitting in the amphitheater of Caesaria. Students are walking down the steps to join in some lively dancing with a tour group from Kenya.


Ancient Ruins of Caesaria


Getting some necessary shuteye after our long flight and active day!

flight and day 1 in Israel

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 2:26 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Alec Ring 15

It was an early morning for the members of Mayanot trip 233. Many of us traveled from far and wide to arrive at Newark International Airport for our flight to Israel. Flying El Al is an experience unto itself, featuring 10 hours of Jewish Geography between the numerous bubbulas, those making aliyah, and us Dartmouth Students. But upon taking that first breath of fresh Israeli air, it is a relief and pleasure to know that all of us are in for a tremendous adventure in our cultural and religious homeland.

                We spent the majority of our day wandering the beautiful ruins of Caesarea, an Ancient Roman city whose most prosperous years were under the rule of King Herod. Monumental structures such as the amphitheatre, hippodrome, and mosaic baths served as introduction to the history of the land of Israel itself, and how the Jewish people are intertwined with this land. Our trip guide Daniel told us a nice proverb that I think describes the relationship between the Jewish People and Israel, “Caesarea and Jerusalem can both fail, Jerusalem can thrive and Caesarea can fail, Caesarea can thrive and Jerusalem can fail, but both Caesarea and Jerusalem cannot thrive together.” I think that this proverb means that the Jewish People must maintain their autonomy as people in this land, and when persecuted or removed from their holy land it is impossible for the Jewish People to prosper. This is significant in contextualizing our millennial history in the land of Israel.

                We continued our journey through Israeli history today by exploring the Ramat Hanadiv Park discussing themes such as Jewish Migration to Israel in the 19th century, and how those kibbutzim were able to prosper with the help of the Rothschild Family. Without the Rothschild tremendous investment and love for then Palestine it is unlikely the trajectory of the country would remain the same.

                As we got to know each other better over the course of our first day in Israel, I think the group is extremely excited for the 9 days to come, and is ready for a great nights sleep!

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