January is almost over… wait, what?
I wasn’t going to let the month slip away without recognizing that January 2015 marks the one year anniversary of my trip to Israel. If you had asked me about doing the trip any time before last fall, I honestly always thought Israel was just going to be one of those places I never made it to. When registration opened in the fall of 2013, I blindly registered for a spot on the coveted trip, expecting nothing of it. About four weeks later, I had a plane ticket to Israel.
I traveled right after the start of 2014 with the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which is a program that brings students between the ages of 18-26 to this small but incredibly beautiful country for FREE!
My trip was a mixed group of 40 students from universities all over the United States, and I signed up all alone. The trip is only 10 days, but you cover literally the entire country (the entire country is approximately the size of the state of New Jersey, and it only takes a few hours to drive from the northern-most point to the south) We saw everything from bustling cities to serene deserts, holy sites to insane clubs. It was definitely one of the most jam-packed trips I’ve ever done. I had some experiences I just can’t have anywhere else in the world, and I met so many incredible people! Here’s some highlights (with pictures, of course!):
Northern Israel: Spent a day exploring Haifa and the next few hiking Golan Heights. It was here my group grappled with some serious jet lag and constant icebreakers. Highlights? Crawling around in old war bunkers, and standing on the border of two countries that don’t get along…
Tzfat (pronounced Sa- fat): The home of mysticism and Kabbalah. People say there is something in the air here, and I believe it. Though at times a little too hippy-dippy for my liking, the city boasts an incredible Artisan colony with tons of stuff to see, touch, and buy. I would have definitely loved a little more time to wander through!
Jerusalem: Without a shadow of a doubt, Jerusalem was my favorite city (because #culturegeek). Without sounding dramatic here, I had waited my entire life to visit Jerusalem.
A white-stoned city frozen in time, I loved every second of the cobblestone streets and ancient ruins. We went shopping on Ben Yehuda street, and partied at Kings Bar (popular spot for Birthright groups). The highlight of my trip was finally getting to go to the Western Wall (I have this super-nerdy thing with needing to touch everything, especially if it’s ancient and of some cultural significance, so to be more precise, I couldn’t wait to touch the Western Wall), where I proceeded to become overwhelmed with so many emotions that I had a public meltdown. Finally getting to stick a note in the Wall was totally worth it, though.
Masada and the Negev: From there, we headed south to the middle of the Negev Desert for a few days. We woke up absurdly early to hike Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and watch the sunrise. There are two ways up Masada- the Roman Ramp and Snake Path. Snake Path consists of well over 400 steps. We went up AND down via Snake Path. My legs still hurt.
We also covered ourselves in mud and floated in the Dead Sea, and trekked on to stay in a Bedouin tent for a night. The Bedouin people are indigenous to the area and are known for their hospitality. AKA, this is a giant 120-person sleepover with great, homemade food.
Our final activity was a camel ride. It actually is as awesome as it sounds. And yes, we are still making “Hump Day” Instagram posts one year later.
Tel Aviv: Our very last city! Quick note: You probably already know of my love for major cities. This one, however, does not make that list. Regardless, I did get to do cartwheels on the beach and sit in the same room where the state of Israel was created… Because that’s totally casual, right?
From there, my adventure ended, and my group disbanded. Some people stuck around for more exploring, but I had to fly home and prep to return to school. I’m really not sure if I’ll ever make it back. One thing is for sure, some people never get to see Israel at all… How lucky am I to get to say I have been, and have all the amazing memories to prove it?
Interested? More information here: http://www.birthrightisrael.com/