Greg Berger D `12
Our adventures with the eight Israeli soldiers continued yesterday as we ventured into a network of underground tunnels that ancient Israelis had built. They used these tunnels to hide from the heat, as well as the Roman soldiers that tried to capture and destroy their civilizations. The tunnels were pretty unbelievable because they often were so small that we were forced to crawl on our hands and knees, or even on our stomachs in order to squeeze ourselves through the tunnels. While some people loved these “spelunking” adventures, others didn’t enjoy getting dirty and chalky. Either way it was nice to get some exercise.
Next we traveled to an amazing set of farms — which were really an enormous network of greenhouses — that I never would have expected to encounter in the middle of the Israeli desert. We briefly learned about the various irrigation techniques these farmers use in order to keep the plants alive, as the farms in this area produce approximately 80 percent of the tomatoes for the entire country. We all really had a blast when we were let loose in the tomato greenhouse and had the opportunity to try more than 10 different types of tomatoes. While I’m personally not the hugest fan of tomatoes, these were all much more enjoyable than those back home. Who knew the Israelis invented the cherry tomato!?!
Tears were shed shortly thereafter as many of us tasted the hottest habanero peppers in the world, at least according to our tour guide. We also tried red, purple and yellow carrots that we picked from the ground — all of which tasted exactly like regular orange carrots. After a bus ride featuring blasting the song “One Day” and a cage of pigeons, we proceeded to a citrus fruit plantation with oranges, lemons, kumquats and pommelos.
The day culminated in a trip to a Bedouin village near the Gaza Strip, where we heard incoherent and illogical stories about camels without tails and Bedouins with green eyes. There were five or six other birthright groups at the settlement as well, and never before had I seen so much AE Pi apparel in one place! After an early 6 a.m. wakeup, we got to one of the parts of the trip I was most exctied for — riding camels.
Overall this has been an amazing trip. I came on birthright without really thinking about what I was hoping to get out of it. As someone whose involvement with my religion significantly dropped off after my Bar Mitzvah, I’ve truly enjoyed engaging with Jewish teachings and principles in a new light. I’m not sure if I have any profound insights or anything like that yet, but I’ve definitely started to think about everything more recently. When speaking with the soldiers, it’s amazing how they all have such conviction about their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), while most of the Americans struggle to confidently describe what they believe.
The exposure to the Israeli landscape has also been amazing. The majority of images I previously associated with Israel consisted of photos of Jerusalem, the desert, and war. On this trip, however, we’ve seen beautiful beaches, rolling mountains, lakes and cities with skyscrapers.
That’s all I have to say for now, but I’m looking forward to hiking Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea later this afternoon!