By Noah Segal
Our 10-day journey around Israel has come to an end. From the Sea of Galilee to the beaches of Eilat, we had seen, tasted, and done so many things! I was so lucky that I got to experience this trip with some of my best friends from OSRUI and with the legendary Daniel Shore as our leader. Although the trip had ended, and I had to say goodbye to old friends and my new ones, my world tour was not quite yet over.
Max Gendler and I re-booked our tickets home so that we could continue traveling. First, we will stay and visit with various Israeli friends that we would not have otherwise known if it hadn’t been for OSRUI. OSRUI has given us an international family and has truly showed me the importance of the mishlachat program, the program that brings Israelis to camp to work as counselors and specialists. And then, Max and I are flying to France where we will be staying with yet another OSRUI alum, Sebastian Torero, who is studying at Science Po outside of Nice, France.
I have learned a lot on this trip about religion, politics, history etc. and I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I suggest you experience it yourself and try to get to Israel—whether it is with Birthright, EIE, NFTY in Israel or any other way you are able to get to this amazing country. One thing that I have learned, no matter how cliché it is, is that while we always know OSRUI is a summer of fun, it is also truly a lifetime of friends!
January 2nd– What I’ve Seen in Florentine
By Max Gendler
It was a chilly rainy day in Tel Aviv as my fellow Birthright peers and I raced around Rabin Square looking for food before our Graffiti Tour in Florentine, on the south side of Tel Aviv. We got on the bus and got to our destination where it was still a little rainy and cold, but I was still so excited to see the artwork on the buildings and walls of the city. We began with some simple graffiti terms such as “tagging” and “artwork” before getting to the art itself.
The first piece we looked at was of the faces of the 27 Club–musical artists like Amy Winehouse, Jimmy Hendrix, and Janis Joplin who all had died at the age of 27. One interesting part of the piece was that there was a face to the far right that our tour guide explained was actually the graffiti artist himself who thought he too would die at that age. The one difference was that his face had white paint splattered on it—our tour guide explained this was done purposefully by his sister, who wanted to cover his face and encourage him to turn his life around and live a better lifestyle (and he did turn things around). This was a very good example of how powerful graffiti can be and how a lot the time it’s a lot deeper than what the eye sees.
We walked for an hour or two around Florentine checking out the various graffiti and, of course, took many pictures. For me it was a fantastic experience and something about the rainy weather made it special–it made the colors pop more. It was a really incredible experience to do with Birthright because everyone could relate to the artwork around and was able to have a good time taking pictures of and with the graffiti. Florentine is definitely a place that I could spend hours in finding every little piece of art at every corner and in every alley. I can’t wait to go back some day and see how it’s changed!
December 30th – Fitting Eilat into a Short Amount of Time
by Jeff Coleman
The experience I had during our less-than-24-hour visit to Eilat was definitely one of the most spectacular I’ve had on my birthright trip. Just upon arriving, I was staggered by what a bustling urban area it is, with pretty architecture and lots of glass, and the lights of civilization gleaming and flickering over the surrounding mountains – pretty crazy because I assumed it would be a pretty isolated region – being a town of 50,000 people in the southernmost part of Israel and away from any major Israeli city. I ended up having a great night: the hotel was cool and modern and had lots of tourists. We went out to the nearby bars and got a taste of the local nightlife – I got to know my birthright friends a lot better that night.
The next morning we woke up early to go on a hike up a nearby range of hills formed from magma and metamorphic rocks all brightly covered and attractive – being interested in nature and science, I enjoyed getting to hear a little about the geology of these hills, but struggled a little with the hike itself. The hills were steeper and sloped more than Masada, and so it was an even harder hike. Nonetheless, the best part of the hike was at the top for me – we meditated overlooking a gorgeous view – on a ridge where we could see Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. As I meditated, this scenery made me reflect on all the history and politics I’ve been learning on the trip and the place of Israel in the Middle East, as well as how much traveling I wanted to continue to do in this region. At the end of the hike we reached the Red Sea, which I had no clue I’d even get to see, and I’d always wanted to visit it. We went snorkeling, and although I’ve snorkeled all over the world (Costa Rica, Hawaii, the Galápagos), this time I was provided with the coolest and prettiest underwater fish life and coral structures of any place I’d visited.
We went back to a shopping area in downtown Eilat for lunch and shopping. I went to my first nice restaurant in Israel – a few friends and I sat at a table outside on the beach; very relaxing. The food was great, and, because I wanted the full Eilat food experience, I continued to go to restaurants and eat more after I left, including buying gelato at a local parlor.
Eilat has quickly moved up my priority list on places to return to and explore further.
December 29: How are you Bedouin?
By Ethan Goldish
We arrived at the Bedouin tents late at night, as the desert was reaching a miserably cold, winter temperature. We quickly popped our
things down in our big tent and then headed over to a larger group tent to have a meal and light the Chanukah candles. We sat 8 to table and our Bedouin hosts put a giant platter in front of us filled with delicious food. Without a piece of silverware in sight, we dug in with our hands and sipped delicious Bedouin tea while absorbing the warmth of the tent. For desert we ate Turkish delight, a
gelatinous cube treat that some of us loved (I had 8 pieces) and others didn’t even finish one piece (more for me!).
After the meal we headed to the tent where we played Meet The Israeli Soldier (to learn about the soldiers who had just joined our trip), celebrate another group member’s birthday with singing and cake, and, lastly, layer up with many clothes in an attempt to keep warm in our tent through the frigid desert night. We survived the night, and looking back at it, the experience of bonding with the group and being immersed in a completely different culture was one of the best parts of the trip!
December 27th: Marketplace Mayhem
By Jacob Letwat
The marketplaces in Israel are like nothing you can find in the US. The combination of food vendors yelling as they compete for your shekels and the retail stores proudly displaying their merchandise out front on the sidewalk is a very foreign, yet enjoyable experience. I couldn’t get enough of the food, journeying with a couple of friends immediately from kebobs to burekas at Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. And right next door was an artist section, known as Nachalat Benyamin, that’s only set up on Tuesdays and Fridays, where artists proudly display their homemade artwork for sale. We also went to the main shuk in Jerusalem, Machne Yehuda, where there was a little more room to walk around, but you can still find whatever you’re looking for. I used our time there as an opportunity to walk around and see all the unique shops available, such as the etrog shop that uses this fruit as a remedy for all sorts of ailments. Vendors are more than willing to let you try any of their food products, which is also a refreshing change from shopping in the United States. In my mind, the markets are what epitomize being immersed in Israeli culture.
December 26th– The Situation in the Middle East Israeli Complicated
By Mitchell Israel
I was very excited to hear that we were meeting with Neil Lazarus on our trip–he is an expert on Middle Eastern and Israeli politics, and I had seen him previously at Indiana University. Neil simplified the complexity of the current situation in the Middle East for us by using the metaphor of a sandwich: one slice of bread is the superpowers of the world, the other slice is Israel and neighboring countries—both working to hold the sandwich together as best they can; in between, the meat of the sandwich is Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, fighting for more power and visibility on the world stage; the mustard is ISIS—adding an unprecedented level of messiness to the sandwich. Within our own group, Neil humorously pointed out the fact that all of the Israeli soldiers who were with us on our trip were sitting together and not mixed among us, alluding to the fact that Israelis instinctively know they have to stick together in such a chaotic political situation. He also described the situation in Syria, explaining who’s on what side and why. I wish we had had some more time with Neil, specifically for questions and answers. I hope that if Neil is in the United States this Spring he can come to my campus (and yours!) and that over the summer, he can come to camp (and yours!).
December 25th– For Richer or Tzippori
The second day of our trip, after a quick breakfast, we headed out to Tzippori where we were able to explore amazingly well preserved 2000-year-old mosaics that once decorated beautiful houses, specifically bathhouses, and were likely commissioned by wealthy Jews. The color spectrum was vast and the detailed images were still identifiable—both signs of the wealth behind having them crafted. After spending a fair amount of time appreciating the formation of different-colored stones our trip broke up into three separate groups to discuss Judaism in our lives and our individual Jewish identities that we hold in America.
My group specifically began by discussing areas of Judaism we find most important, such as Tzedakah, Tikkun Olam, etc. From there we discussed what being Jewish meant to us and how we would proceed in the future in various aspects of life, from getting involved in the Jewish communities at our respective college campuses to how we would incorporate Judaism into the lives of our future children. It was a great opportunity to reflect and hear other’s perspectives, especially since we were all still just getting to know each other.
December 24th – Countdown to Shabbos … One … One Plane Ride to Shabbos!
by Max Gendler
I went on this trip knowing my best friends from OSRUI were going to be there. Knowing this, and having been a songleader at camp last summer, I immediately wanted to bring my guitar on the Taglit (Birthright) trip. However, knowing that I was going to be traveling through Israel, and extending my travels to France, I decided not to bring one.
The decision followed me as I traveled to New York before the trip because I already missed the sound of my guitar and the feeling of sharing the music I play with the people around me. Fast-forwarding a bit, I was sitting in the airplane next to my new Birthright peers and friends from OSRUI when Shore, one of our trip leaders, came up to me. He asked if I would song-lead services that night when we arrived at our hotel (we arrived on Friday in time for Shabbat) and told me we would have a guitar provided by Kesher (our URJ trip organizer). The excitement that rushed through me felt like lightning, and I couldn’t help but smile.
We got to the hotel, and I immediately tuned up the guitar. Then Shore and I sat down to write a service and we gathered in a small room with all 42 members of our group. Together we celebrated Shabbat with familiar camp tunes and prayers that everyone (most participants went to URJ camps or were in NFTY) knew and sang along to. Following the service we got to share with each other our names, where we were from and what we were most excited for in the coming days. We then got the chance to “break the ice” and meet each other through a wonderful game called Speed Dating where, sitting in concentric circles, we would continuously switch people, or “dates,” about every minute, and in that minute we would get to know them and answer questions pertaining to our lives. Soon enough we all became very comfortable and I realized we were quickly beginning to form our Kehilah, community, Kehilah (clap) from Day 1, and that the next 10 days showed promise to be a meaningful and emotional time with one and other. Before we left the room to go hang out and continue to bond, we came together to sing the Hashkiveinu. Once again I had the privilege to lead our trip in song and prayer.
As I look back on that Shabbat now, I realize, as I did in the moment as well, that nothing was more special, more meaningful and fulfilling, than for me to have the opportunity to sing, play, and lead our group in song on the first Shabbat, and the first day of our trip, and, most importantly, in the Holy Land. What an amazing experience to kick off an even more amazing trip!! We are currently on our way to the Bedouin tents where we will spend the night together under the stars…only furthering my excitement to spend the coming summer’s nights under the stars, around the fire, with my fellow madrichim and chanichim in a lovely place called OSRUI.
December 23-January 1- Chanukah Everywhere!!
By Daniel Shore
We were on our trip for the entirety of Chanukah, from night one to night eight. Each night we lit candles as a group, sang the prayers,
and experienced Chanukah in a way that you only can in Israel. Whether it was families who were staying in the same hotel as us joining our candle lighting, putting our chanukiah among the numerous others already lit, or seeing sufganiyot (doughnuts) everywhere we went (including the pizza place), Chanukah in Israel was a special experience.
To add to the excitement, on the seventh night we did a gift exchange among the participants. Each participant was secretly assigned to be another participant’s Secret Shamash. During our free lunch time each participant found a gift for their secret recipient. At night, after lighting the candles, we did the gift exchange. Then, everyone found out that all of them were OSRUI’s Secret Shamash and received a gift in the form of a Krembo treat—graham cracker and marshmallow covered in a chocolate casing—the most reminiscent of our s’mores and bonfires at camp. Needless to say, it was a Happy Chanukah.
December 22nd – Leavin’ on a Jet Plane
By Noah Segal
Yesterday morning I was in Chicago. Last night I arrived in New York. This afternoon I head to JFK airport. I will be in Israel! Tomorrow I begin my ten-day trip to Israel and, if that wasn’t enough, I am going with some of my best friends from OSRUI! Starting at the beginning of the summer, some of my fellow counselors and I were talking about how great it would be to go on Birthright as one big group. I had heard so many positive things from other counselors who had already gone on Birthright, and I wanted to make sure we had the same great experience. After speaking with Susan Alexander almost six months ago about organizing an OSRUI trip, I can’t believe the trip has finally arrived. I am incredibly excited and grateful that I have the opportunity to spend the next ten days traveling around Israel with my best friends!