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Tzvat, Tel Aviv and the Old City

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Shorashim Bus 314

Day 3 (July 1)

This article is written by two lovely Jewish boys, Xander and Ian. We hope to bring you a little play by play analysis of two of our days here in Israel. Today, we woke up after a brutal United States loss in the World Cup. We enjoyed an abundant breakfast full of salad, veggies, including tomatoes, peppers, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, bread, pudding, cereal, three different types of coffee and some hot chocolate for those not interested in the Middle East's favorite drink. It was time to say goodbye to Kibbutz Afik as the crew made their way to Tzvat, which you can spell in a variety of ways including tzfat, sefat, etc. Tzvat is one of the four holy cities of Judaism, as the birthplace of kabbalah. We began with a musical experience followed by exploring the open market. We explored Ari-El synagogue of Tzvat, with it's light blue and white walls and intricate carvings which created a special atmosphere for our trip. From the synagogue we ventured to the candle factory that creates the lovely Havdalah candles and the colorful Hanukah candles you can find on your own table. The factory's main candle maker had on display some impressive carvings of wax that depicted different stories in the Torah.

Being in the city where kabbalah started, Shorashim set up some time for us to meet an artist who focused his design on kabbalah teachings. The artist, Avraham Loewenthal, spoke to us about his journey to a strict spiritual life and how he lives by the kabbalah teachings. Due to time constraints in our schedule, Avraham could only provide a quick introduction to the teachings. His design was clean and simple, probably inspired from his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and Bauhaus. After a number of the students bought artwork from Avraham, we went to the main part of Tzvat for a little lunch and the start of the Schwarma Challenge. Note, everyone has failed in completing the schwarma challenge except Xander. Finally, we ended our time in Tzvat with some Shopportunity, "which is shopping + opportunity = SHOPPORTUNITY!" Ian would like it known that he did not come up with this phrase, but our lovely tour guide, Lilach, is the mastermind behind this dangerous creation.

With our bellies full, bags packed, and water bottles refilled we boarded the bus and headed to Tel Aviv. Before you keep reading, Xander and Ian ask the reader to look up the song Tel Aviv by Omer Adam and listen fully to the song. It will be stuck in your head and we hope it will help enhance the read. Going on, we first stopped to get some rays and catch some waves in the Mediterranean Sea. All the Shorashim participants soaked up some sun and almost protested to stay there for the rest of the trip. We are kidding, but it did come to our minds for a second. After engulfing about a pound of salt, it was time to head to our hotel to shower, change, and enjoy a special show from two former contestants of Israel's TV show The Voice. After being swooned and serenated, it was time to experience, for two hours and two hours only, the nightlife of Tel Aviv. Though there are a number of bars and clubs throughout the city, we focused our time on Ben Yehuda street. A number of groups formed and we went out to enjoy a drink while conversing with the natives of Tel Aviv.

Day 4 (July 1)

The next morning, we woke up with a smile on our face ready to take on another day in Tel Aviv. We gobbled up breakfast, filled up our water bottles and headed to Independence Hall on Rothschild Street. We learned about the declaration of Israel as a State in 1948. Next, we went to Rabin Square to learn about Israel's political history. We went into detail about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. After our lesson we engulfed ourselves in Israeli culture by asking random citizens how they felt about the assassination at the time and what they remember about the sad day. We finished our time in the square by visiting the memorial where Rabin was assassinated. The flags were flying at half mast in honor the three teens killed in Jerusalem. Finally, it was time for lunch as the group got to choose what to fill their stomachs with. Time to get on the bus for Jerusalem.

We began the day by taking pictures at the promenade. Then it was time to head into Old Jerusalem as we began our journey to the Jewish Quarter. We made time for a discussion about the history of the Western Wall. During this discussion we mimicked our ancestors path as they had walked to the Western Wall for prayers. Once, we reached our true destination of the wall, we separated in two groups. The men to one side and the women on the other. We said our prayers and packed the bus up. We drove back to the hotel, where we dined and enjoyed the company of many other Taglit groups.

A Special Shabbat

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Shorashim Bus 314

 Our fourth of July, Birthright day five, started out in Jerusalem. We took off for Yad Vashem bright and early, to visit and tour Israel's Holocaust Memorial on Mt. Herzl. Yad Vashem is a museum structured unlike any other, with the unique architecture adding to the tour experience. The museum is designed to not only lead you through the story and history of the Holocaust via its information, but also subtly manipulate your physical experience. The museum's structure starts wide, but then goes on to narrow as the sufferings of the Holocaust amount, finally releasing into the refreshing broad light of day as patrons exit to look out on to a spectacular view of Israel, gently reminding us where we stand today, as we take in the vista. The heat from the Israeli summer and the light from the early afternoon elicited a feeling of relief, like a deep tense breath had been released. Our usually talkative group found ourselves in a reverent quiet as we took in the past couple hours and an ending to the tour that reminded us that it is our duty to not allow the faces and sufferings of those affected by the Holocaust fade into history.
The rest of the day was far less intense, as we walked the streets of Nachlaot in a specific strip called "the shuk" - a market street lined with shops selling everything from fruit, to pastries, to clothing, to coffee; with sales people calling from their booth to you as you walked by. As this unique Jerusalem neighborhood prepared for Shabbat, our task was to each bring a snack from the shook for Oneg. Oneg, if you are unfamiliar, is an intimate gathering where we as a group enjoy sweets and snacks together after our Shabbat dinner.
After the shuk, we returned to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat - this meant some much needed rest and relaxation, after the intense morning and chaotic afternoon. Come Shabbat, our amazing Shabbat committee got us in the mood for the celebration, by having us sing song and arrange for the boys to bring each girl a rose and ask them to be their dinner date. The Shabbat committee led the traditional Shabbat prayers, and then, finally, we sat down to Shabbat dinner. Going through the prayers with the group was interesting, because not everyone comes to Israel with the same depth of exposure to Judaism. There are some who do Shabbat every week and then there are those for whom this is the first time ever hearing these prayers.
During Oneg, we played a couple of games, and then were released from group activities for the evening, though none of us stopped having fun together. I would say, and I'm sure that many of us share this opinion, that after Shabbat dinner and going into Shabbat on Saturday was our best night together thus far. It was the end of day four, we were finally comfortable with each other (aka finally knew everyone's names) and could really spend the night in the bonding and hanging out in the lobby of our hotel. A guitar was brought out, a deck of cards was found, and needless to say, we took advantage of being able to sleep in the following morning.
The next day started off with some much needed sleeping in before a day that I know I was personally looking forward to very much. My roommate woke me up by saying, "Dude, you're getting Bat Mitzvah-ed in like, 20 minutes. You better get up!" This was the day that anyone who hadn't had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or wanted to have a second one in Jerusalem was able to do so. I had grappled with this, but after spending time with the group, I found that I was more than willing to open myself up and be vulnerable with the group, so I decided to take advantage of an opportunity that I would surely regret if passed up, and have my first and only Bat Mitzvah. In Israel, in Jerusalem - an absolutely mind blowing opportunity.
As I told the group in my "speech" to them, I was not born Jewish, but in fact converted to Judaism June 12, 2011. I had wanted to for a decade, since I was 13, and finally did it after college. I won't go into my whole long story, but I certainly was happy to open myself up to the group and tell it to my newfound friends. I had been worried that if I told the group I had converted, that I would some how come off looking like fraud, like an outsider trying to weasel my way in to a culture, but no Jew I've encountered has given confirmation to my insecurities, and this group was no exception. After telling my story and being Bat Mitzvahed, I was once again welcomed into the open arms of the Jewish community, by way of this wonderful group of people - my first real Jewish community of peers. I could not be happier to have told my story, and ousted myself as a convert because I will return home with the memories of the incredible encouragement, hugs, tears and love that I received to bolster myself whenever I feel insecure again. I will always be grateful for this specific group of people for letting me know that honesty and revealing my true self is way more rewarding than trying to fit in, and hiding my history. If any of you are reading this, thank you so much, you have no idea how wonderful you made me feel. If any of you parents are reading this, congratulations - you raised some awesome people.
Two other guys, brothers, in the group were also re-Bar Mitzvah-ed to claim their identity as a Jew as their own, and to confirm that it is in fact their choice to continue to be Jewish - not just something they did as kids. Watching them speak beneath the trees as these three Bar/Bat Mitzvah's took place, in the calm Jerusalem breeze, was truly a unique experience, and something I think we'll all remember.
The duration of the day was spent resting and relaxing, in typical Shabbat fashion. Some of us went to the park, and some of us stayed at the hotel to nap, repack our suitcases, or spend some time on the hotel's wifi. The day ended with the Havdallah to mark the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the week, followed by a trip to Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem's main shopping district, for dinner. Strolling back to the hotel after dinner, on the streets of Jerusalem, was a perfect way to end a near perfect day.