Friday, September 25, 2015

Birthright Trip to Israel: Day 6

Herzl's picture in Independence Hall
After another yummy breakfast (with pudding of course), we started our next full day in Israel. We started the day at the Independence Museum in Tel Aviv. Independence Hall is where Israel became its own sovereign nation in 1948 (it used to be under Britain's rule). The museum itself actually was the first house built in Tel Aviv in the early 1900's, and that is where the mayor lived. He eventually made the house into an art museum in honor of his wife. Today there is still art on display, but the hall is the main attraction (with a picture of Herzl hanging front and center).

This marks the spot where Rabin was assassinated.
This was another very hot day (over 100° F), so our itinerary had to change a bit. We were going to visit Rabin Square, but instead we just drove past it. The square is a large area where people gather for rallies and things like that. In the 1990's, when Rabin was the prime minister of Israel, he gave a speech there about peace with Palestine. When he was exiting the stage, an ultra-orthodox Jewish man killed Rabin (the flags in the photo above represent where he was assassinated). We were supposed to go to an open-air market for lunch, but again, because of the heat, we were dropped off at another shopping mall. This time I took off on my own just to get some peace and quiet. I did buy myself some things, but I would have much preferred the marketplace!

Ramon Crater
At this point we were supposed to visit the grave of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. But we ended up visiting Ramon Crater, which was very neat, especially since most Birthright groups don't get to go there! At the visitors center, we not only learned about the crater itself (which was not created by a meteor but by natural geologic processes over thousands of years), but we also learned about Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut (Note: The crater was not named after this astronaut. He changed his name for the crater!). At the crater we also heard about the different kinds of wildlife in the Negev desert. Most of them are more active at night due to the heat, and species included foxes, hydrax, porcupines, lizards, snakes, scorpions, etc.! This was a little scary to learn about since we would be sleeping in tents that night!

Some wildlife: an antelope with her babies!

The man wearing all white taught us about "Bedouin hospitality."
After driving through the Negev Desert, we finally arrived at the Bedouin tents where we would be spending the night. "Bedouin" means "desert dweller" in Arabic, and these people are historically Arab nomads who move around the desert a lot and historically do not have permanent homes. We met a Bedouin man who taught us about their way of life: raising goats and camels, sharing coffee with guests, inviting strangers to stay with them for several days, etc. But he did explain that he does have a house and does not live in these tents; it was pretty obvious that these tents were just for tourists and gave these men some of their income (There were at least six other Birthright groups there at the same time as us.). That night we ate dinner sitting on rugs in the tents and eating with our hands. The food was much like what we had eaten on the rest of the trip: pita bread, meat and rice, cucumber and tomato salad, tzaziki sauce, and pickles. And I didn't expect dessert, but they did have some store-bought cookies that I thought were pretty good (maybe they tasted so good just because I didn't think I'd get dessert to begin with!).

Now this is a carpet picnic!
Although we were in the desert and "roughing it," there was running water and real toilets (although I don't think any of us bothered to use the showers because of the dirt and dust everywhere), and we had plenty of electric light at night time. So that meant we could still play games! (Yay!...It's difficult to express sarcasm through text alone.) Each Israeli in our group made up a game: charades, labeling places on an Israeli map, singing the Israeli national anthem, etc. While the games were kind of fun, it was still late at night and I would have rather been sleeping. And the night was still not over! We then took a moonlit walk in the dark in the desert. We were told to be quiet so we could just take in the moment (but of course a handful of the annoying people would NOT shut up). But it didn't really matter that people were talking: we were close to an airforce base, so there were airplanes flying overhead the whole time, so I couldn't really enjoy the experience of "being one with nature." We also had to keep ducking from cars that were driving in the area; I'm surprised none of us got run over. This was supposed to be a time of self-reflection, but I do that a lot on my own anyway (through yoga, meditation, and prayer), so I didn't really get much out of this activity. And I was sleepy (i.e. cranky).

Yep, about 50 of us all slept in this one big tent.
FINALLY it was time for us to go to bed. We were all in one tent, which really surprised me, because I thought for sure we would be at least divided into girls' and guys' tents. All of our mattresses were so close together that there was barely any room to move around without stepping on someone or someone's mattress. Most of us made an effort to step around people and their things, but some absent-minded (or rude) folks simply stepped right on the middle of your mattress with their filthy shoes, as if you weren't about to LAY YOUR BODY AND HEAD RIGHT THERE. Anyway, I slept surprisingly well and slept through the entire night. Supposedly the other groups were being loud throughout the night, singing and playing music, but I didn't hear any of that. Thank goodness!

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