Submitted by Matt Lorch, University of Oklahoma Class 2013
Today started a little differently than the others. Waking up in the Bedouin tents, we were treated to a very minor sandstorm, one that impaired our vision slightly but really wasn't dangerous. It was a pretty cool experience to complete a night in the desert. After having breakfast at the camp, we boarded the bus and made the drive over to the Bedouin village of Lakiya. Lakiya was different than the rest of the Israeli towns we have visited. Buildings were in poorer shape and there was far more Arabic than Hebrew present in the town.
While we were in Lakiya, we visited the Lakiya Weaving Project of the Association for the Improvement of Women's Status, a group of Bedouin women that are fighting for equal rights. The woman who spoke to us, one of the locals, helped found the group which was dedicated to helping women to get educated, find work, and travel. It was interesting to hear how these women were fighting for something that we take for granted back in the States. After listening to the story of these women, we were given an opportunity to shop and then were loaded back onto the bus. While on the bus we drove along Highway 358 to give us a look at the 'Security Barrier', a fence that separated Israel from the Palestinian Territories, before making a quick stop for lunch.
When our lunch break was over, we once again jumped onto the bus and headed to an actual active archeological dig at the Beit Guvrin Caves. The caves had been around for over 2300 years, having been built sometime during the Hellenistic period. The lead archeologist lead us down into the caves and explained to us how the caves had been used as houses, staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Then we were all separated into smaller groups and sent into smaller caves, nicknamed Linus, Lucy, and Pebbles. That's when the fun began, as we were given access to tools and time to dig. Some of the students were lucky enough to find pieces of pottery and bone fragments, though I don't think anyone found a coin. After the dig was over, we took turns sifting through the dirt piles we had made for even more finds, and then made our way to the Maresha Cave Labyrinth. In the Labyrinth, lead by only lit candles, we crawled on hands and knees (and other times stood crouching) through the caves. It was a lot of fun.
Caked with dirt, we jumped back onto the bus and made our way to Ashkelon and the final hotel we would be staying in. We checked into the hotel, cleaned ourselves up, and made our way down to dinner before heading into a small conference room for a session lead by our wonderful Mifgash soldiers: skits. The Mifgash divided us into groups and asked us to come up with skits that could be used as a "commercial" for describing the Birthright experience. Sure, none of these were academy award winning scenes, but we all had a lot of laughs, and then settled in for a Q and A session with the soldiers on more serious topics. It was interesting to hear the various perspectives that the soldiers had on topics like Iran, Syria, and serving in the military.
With the session over, we were given a few minutes to change and then lead down to the marina for free time. We all had a great time just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Our night out ended after a couple of hours and then we headed back to the hotel to get some rest, as we had one more amazing day in Israel left.