Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Birthright Trip to Israel: Days 9 & 10

Model of the old city of Jerusalem
This was our last day in Israel. It started off with a yummy breakfast that included sweet grits (like Farina) and toast (until then we usually just had bread because there was no toaster!). Our first activity was visiting this Israel Museum. This was not on our original itinerary (again, because of the heatwave, we had to find more indoor activities to keep us occupied). While I enjoyed the museum, we were only given an hour to visit; in that short time, all we got to see was a model of the old city of Jerusalem and replicas of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We didn't seen any of the art, the exhibit on human evolution, or everything else that the museum had to offer!

My sister and me with our amazing guide Shira. Photo by Jocelyn Rubin.
We went back to Ben-Yahuda Street in Jerusalem for our final day of shopping. This was our last chance to get rid of our shekels (unless we wanted to buy something at the airport). I bought a shirt, a mezuzah, cake for my colleagues, and some ice cream (with a sprinkled cone. So worth the extra 3 sheks!). We also bought some African violets for our guide since she was so wonderful. While this last shopping excursion was fun, it felt a little redundant since we had already visited this area. I would have liked to stay longer at the museum and cut our last day of shopping a little short.

Then we headed to Mount Herzl, which I was looking forward to the entire trip.  First we had a discussion with the CEO of Birthright, a local comptroller, a person who works in education, and some other people. This part was very boring. I understand what an honor it is to meet these people, but they just sat at a long table in front of us and waited for us to ask questions. I didn't feel I learned a lot, and this was especially a waste of time because these people were a half-hour late! Again, this is time we could have spent at the museum that morning, or even at the Herzl Museum, where we were sitting! Honestly, it took all of my strength not to fall asleep during this discussion. (Supposedly after this talk the men on the panel said we were a great group and asked the best questions they've ever gotten from a Birthright group, but I doubt this is true.)

Photo by Jocelyn Rubin
Photo by Taylor Arion

FINALLY we got to go to the military cemetery. It is divided into several sections: parts for different wars, others for national leaders, etc. In the older section, all of the graves look the same (like little beds for eternal sleep); they are identical to show that all of those people are equal in death.

The older graves all have rosemary and geraniums planted on them. Photo by Taylor Arion.

In the newer section, the graves are more personalized. The family can choose which plants (if any) will be planted; they can also leave photos, flags, etc. I found it amazing and sad that most of these soldiers died very young (between the ages of 19-24). Some of the Israelis in our group shared stories of their own war experiences or those of their families.

Other plants are used in the newer parts of the cemetery. Photos by Taylor Arion.
This grave is for Michael Levine, an American who moved to Israel to fight in the IDF and was killed in battle. At his funeral, more than 30,000 Israelis came to remember him. Photo by Jocelyn Rubin.
This empty space is for future graves. We hope this part remains empty. Photo by Taylor Arion.
The cemetery is actually very beautiful. Photo by Taylor Arion.
We also saw the graves of past prime ministers (including Rabin), and of course Herzl's own grave at the top of the hill (the cemetery moves upward as you go along). The cemetery itself is very beautiful, and I was so thankful that this part of our trip was not cancelled!

This is Rabin's grave and that of his wife (I'm not sure which is which). Photo by Taylor Arion.
Herzl's own grave is at the top of Mount Herzl and overlooks Jerusalem. Photo by Taylor Arion.
By this point it was already around 6pm. We drove to the Promenade overlooking Jerusalem for an informal bar and bat mitzvah ceremony. Seven people chose to participate, and although the entire thing was very rushed, I know it was meaningful for those involved (especially my friend Jocelyn).

Jocelyn during her mini-bat mitzvah ceremony
This was our last night in Israel. Dinner was "meh," including the desserts, but there was cous cous, which I love. After dinner we had one last group activity: We were to break up into groups and act out a skit to summarize each day of our trip. At first I was annoyed because I hate this type of thing, but in the end everything was an inside joke, so it was actually quite funny. I wish the night had ended there on a good note.

But no. After this, the group took a break during which people could drink at the hotel bar if they wanted to. This was such a bad idea. People came back intoxicated and were so loud and obnoxious. The last bit of the night was spent with our two American guides giving out "superlatives" to each member of the group. My sister got "Best Jewish Sister," probably because she has to put up with me. I think she should have gotten "Best Hair Braid-er" since she did so many braids for everyone during the trip! I received "Most Likely to Be Best Friends with Shira" (our Israeli guide). This is SO true. Shira was the best part of the trip, and I certainly liked her much more than most of the people in my group, including our useless American guides.

Then at 12:30am we headed to the airport. Traveling in a large group is always hectic, and the process is so slow. Once we arrived, many people in our group were saying goodbye to the Israelis, but I just was ready to go so I could get some sleep before the flight. Our first flight ended up being full of kids, which was extremely annoying. I only slept for an hour or two, and when we were served breakfast, the eggs were weird and I only took one bite of the roll. But at least our flight attendant was friendly and handsome! (I told him so, which made his day!)

Because our first flight left late, we only had thirty minutes to get to our next gate. But we had to go through security again (why?!), and our gate was so far away we actually had to take a shuttle to it. And then there was MORE security for some of us who were "randomly selected" (yeah, right. I guess being American?), so it's a miracle all of us actually made it on the plane. On this flight my headphones did work (although only in the right ear), and I watched Interstellar (very weird and not worth the hype). The lunch was partially frozen: mixed veggies with lox (I didn't eat the fish), "minced meat," and carrots with cous cous. We did get a "non-dairy" ice cream product for dessert, which was quite good (though I'm not sure I actually want to know what was in it). We also received falafel, which I thought was a funny way to bring this whole trip to an end, full-circle.


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