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Day 11: The Last Day of the Trip

Submitted by Nicole Savage, Class of 2015

This morning, we woke up early, sad that it was the last day of our trip but excited to see what exciting adventures the day held in store for us. We took the bus to Moshav Netiv Ha'asarah, an area on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. There, we heard Glenn Eilon speak about security in Israel and other interesting facts regarding the conflict with Gaza and the history of the area. She told us about the carrier pigeons, which were once used to send and receive important messages. She even let some of the students hold the pigeons and release them, and we all watched as they flew off to their next destination.

After another quick bus ride, we arrived at a farm in the Northern Negev, where we went on the Salad Trail, a tour around the farm led by Uri Alon. The farm was a lot of fun for the students - we uprooted fresh carrots and radishes (and ate them!), and explored a green house that was full of fresh plants and herbs, including basil, lavender, mint, and edible flowers! Then we had a quick snack break, where we flattened dough and cooked it on a fire to make homemade pita, and used a yummy pesto spread, which had just been made at the farm. Then we went to an area filled with vines growing tomatoes and cucumbers, and a few daring students tried the dangerously hot pepper that was growing! We concluded the tour with tea and some delicious strawberries.

For lunch, we were free to eat on our own in the town of Sderot. Some of us went to a Mediterranean restaurant and tried the sandwiches and pizza bagels, while others took advantage of their last opportunity to have native Israeli falafel and schwarma. After lunch, we all stood in a circle and had a conversation with our mifgash, who spoke about their experience on Taglit. We ended our talk with a giant, 50-person cinnamon roll hug!

On the way back to the hotel after lunch, we had to say goodbye to the first of our seven Israeli soldiers, who was dropped off at the bus station to go back home for the weekend. When we arrived back at the hotel in Ashkelon, we had free time to hang out. Some students stayed at the hotel to nap or enjoy the pool, and many of us walked in a big group over to the beach. The beach was lots of fun, as students enjoyed the warm water, laid out in the sun, or hacky-sacked on the sand. Unfortunately, at the beach we had to part with the rest of the soldiers. Saying goodbye to our new friends was hard, but we all promised to come back and visit them one day!

We ended our stay in Israel with dinner at the hotel and a wrap-up conversation, where we discussed our experience on Taglit. The students talked about what they got out of the trip, how their visit to Israel changed their perception of Judaism or of Israel, and what they will do differently when they return to the United States. We talked about how we've learned so much on the trip and bonded as a group, and how we hope that bond remains even after we've left Israel. After our wrap-up chat, we had free time to sleep, hang out, and pack our bags before leaving for the airport at 12:30am. We said goodbye to our guard, bus driver, and tour guide, Doron, at the airport, then boarded the long flight to Zurich and then to New York. What an amazing 10 days this has been! We will all look back on our birthright trip with Taglit Bus #997 and remember it as one of the most rewarding, wonderful experiences of our lives.

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Day 10: Waking up in Bedouin Tents

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.

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Day 7: Soldiers and Jaffa

Submitted by Caitlin Plaut, Class of 2014

This was the day that we finally got to meet our soldiers!!  We started the day by eating more hummus and pita at breakfast in the
hotel.  Then we got on the bus to go meet our soldiers in Jaffa.  The anticipation was high, as everyone was so excited to add 7 new people
to our bus.  We arrived in Jaffa where our soldiers (clad in uniform) met up with our group.  After introductions, we all headed to the Jaffa Overlook.  The view was gorgeous!  The sea was bright blue, and the city of Tel Aviv rose in the background.

After the overlook, we all split up to get lunch on our own.  After eating and exploring the flea market in Jaffa, we headed over to Independence Hall.  At this historic location, we sat through a (hilarious) presentation about the history of this location and why it played such a huge role in the history of Tel Aviv and Israel.

After Independence Hall, we walked over to Rabin Square to visit the location where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.  After learning about the events of the day of the assassination, we headed over to get dinner in Tel Aviv.  After dinner, we returned to the hotel in Jerusalem, where we had a discussion that would prep us for our visit the next day to Yad Vashem.

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Day 3: From Mitzpeh Gadot to Tzfat

Submitted by Zach Epstein, Class of 2013

We began the day driving through Mitzpeh Gadot, an abandoned Syrian outpost and learned about Israel’s miraculous victory in the 1967 Six Day War as well as the war’s aftermath.

Soon we arrived at Tzfat, a center of Jewish mysticism that today is full of synagogues, alleyways, and art stores. After the destruction of the second temple, many rabbis headed from Jerusalem north to Tzfat. Glancing at the deep expanse of hills pointing toward Jerusalem, one can see how the rabbis were inspired to develop a new understanding of the Torah. In Tzfat they wrote the Mishnah, which is a commentary of the Talmud, which is a commentary of the Torah.

We first entered a Sephardic-looking Ashkenazi synagogue. The synagogue was circular, blue/white with an elevated platform in the middle and a chair in the corner for circumcision. Next we entered a candle shop with an amazingly-crafted giant David-killing-Goliath candle and a giant candle replica of the Second Temple.

To finish the afternoon we entered the shop of a glassblower from Denver who used to paint dark paintings, made aliyah (moved to Israel), then began painting very bright, pastel paintings. She told us how her Noah’s Ark painting, instead of dwelling on the destruction, presents the joy of redemption. Through another painting, she pointed out that the women of Israel knew to bring instruments when leaving Egypt so that they could celebrate and praise G-d if G-d were to free us from Egypt.

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Hiking the Zafitan; Eating Falafels

Submitted by Kayla Bakhshian, Class of 2015

We had a (super) early start to our jam packed day. The day began with a trip to the Golan to hike the Zafitan. While there were many times where I personally felt like I had to push myself, the rocky hike was well worth every single one of those moments. There were beautiful views and stops including two swims in a river running through the mountain. Another bonus was that the group became tighter as we all helped eachother through the steeper and more difficult parts of the hike.

After a long and exciting hike we boarded the bus and headed to a Druze village to eat what some call "The Best Falafel in Israel".  They were delicious to say the least.

As if all of that wasn't enough, there was much more in store for the rest of the day. Bus 997's next journey included kayaking along the Jordan river and zip lining. Kayaking was quite the adventure due to the plethora of Israeli school children splashing us all as we struggled to get through the river.

From our water park adventure we headed to a mall to grab dinner and do a bit of shopping. When we got back to the Kibbutz we met briefly to share our thoughts on our trip so far and what we have learned and hope to learn.

Overall it was an exhausting but amazing day!

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Traveling to Israel

This post submitted by Allie LeCavalier, Class of 2013

After an exhausting day of travel, the 40 students on Taglit Bus #997 arrived at Ben Gurion airport and headed to Kibbutz Malliya, where we will be staying for 3 nights. The Kibbutz is in the Northern part of the country, in Upper Galilee, near the Lebanese Border. Upon arriving at the Kibbutz, we had our first Israeli meal (the fresh hummus was MUCH better than our airplane meals), went through an orientation program, and went to sleep for the night, jet-lagged and ready to rest up for an exciting 10 days.

Our first full day in the North was packed with diverse experiences. We began the day with a hike up Mt. Meron, the second highest mountain in Israel and an important site for Jewish mystics. We learned how mysticism is the way in which Judaism explores the "grey area" of the Torah and continued to learn about this aspect of the religion for the rest of the day. The next key mystic site we visited was Safed, an artist's colony full of synagogues and galleries. With its narrow alleys and cobble stone walkways, walking through Safed was like exploring Israel's past. In Safed, the men on the trip were given the opportunity to dip in a mikvah, while the entire group was given time to explore the work of local artists. We were especially lucky to attend a glass blowing demonstration by Sheva Chaya, an American-born artist who has made aliyah, who explained to us the connection between her artwork and the teachings of the mystics. We wrapped up our day of touring with a quick stop at the Na'ot factory store. Na'ot is a popular leather and sandal brand here, and many students from 997 needed some heavy-duty shoes to prepare for the rest of our trip!

We returned to the Kibbutz for another relaxing evening, getting to know each other over dinner, during ice breakers, and during our free time on the Kibbutz.

While some of the group used our free time to socialize with IDF soldiers living on the Kibbutz, many of us called it a night and went to sleep to prepare for yet another busy day tomorrow. Next time you hear from us, it will be to hear about our day absorbing the natural beauty of Israel through swimming, hiking, and kayaking on the Jordan River. Until then, lailah tov!

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