December 15, 2011
Hello from Israel! This post comes to you from the Plaza Hotel Nazarath 24 hours after 40 students met at JFK airport to start our Taglit Mayanot Birthright trip. Our journey began yesterday in a dreary Delta terminal that was brightened by the excitement of our departure as we came together from several different schools and started to “break the ice” to form a unified group.
Rabbi Gray had prepared us for the social scene that is a flight to Israel, but that did not minimize the novelty of witnessing families pass around their children, rabbis greet old friends in the aisle, and men form a minion in the back of the plane. This was the beginning of a cultural experience like none other.
10 hours, many movies, and hopefully some successful hours of sleep later, we arrived in the bright and beautiful Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and were greeted by our Mayanot tourguides, Daniel and Dalia, and a warm and sunny afternoon. After being ushered to a palm and orange grove (yes, in the airport) we received the first of several orientations from the Israel staff which included rules, expectations, and some new getting-to-know-you activities. As the sun began to set, we hopped on our bus, eager to head toward our first of many destinations, and feeling so privileged to have arrived without cost or struggle in a place that people have longed and fought for for so many years.
Our comfortable charter bus whisked us away to Nazareth, a drive that is meant to take less than one and a half hours, but in tonight’s heavy traffic, took at least two. Rather than complain, however, students used this time to learn from Daniel and Dalia, and to catch a few more winks of sleep. We were thrilled to arrive at the Plaza Hotel Nazareth to find a beautiful hotel and a delicious buffet of hummus, roasted vegetables, chicken and more awaiting us.
Revived by food and a short break for hot showers, we re-convened for more group bonding and preparation for tomorrow’s activities, which will start bright and early at 7:15 as we need to fit in a whole day’s trip to Tzfat before sundown. Today’s quick initiation into both our group and the country is a great indication of the exciting days to come!
I am so impressed by the grace with which Mayanot manages the trip arrangements for so many students at a time, making it comfortable for us to adjust to a new place without the standard frustrations of travel logistics. The staff seems dedicated to providing us with nothing but a wonderful time here, and I hope that, in exchange, we can act as the enthusiastic and curious leaners and appreciative guests that deserve this wonderful gift.