Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Best of the Land

You've been warned: If you hate looking at photos of other people's vacations, this is not the post for you. That said, I promise not to show you a bunch of slides (do people still use slides?) of scenery of places you don't care about. Rather, you can consider this a highlight reel of sorts, with commentary & camels.

Readyyyyyy.... GO!

On our first full day in Israel, our trip leaders asked us to close our eyes as we got off the bus & as we held hands in a row, they led us to the overlook of Haas Promenade, where they instructed us to open our eyes to one of the most breathtaking views I've ever seen. And then? We feasted.

This? Is a smiling camel named Carl.

This is my friend Jen & me riding a camel named Marjorie Laverne, so dubbed because we could not decide between Marjorie & Laverne. Creative, I know. But you guys: I could feel it breathe. And I could feel its body, like, shudder & sigh when it peed. And the camel behind me kept sidling up near my leg like it wanted to hang out with my foot in its big, camely mouth. So I looked like this a lot of the time:

While roughing it(ish) in a Bedouin tent (with all the modern amenities, though I did get locked in a bathroom) in the middle of the Negev, we gathered around a campfire for a good old-fashioned singalong of such woodsy favorites as Tom Petty, The Eagles & U2. There I am, wearing green sweatpants that didn't keep me from experiencing the absolute coldest night of my life as we slept in a 50-person tent. But still, the singalong was nice.

I took a lot of meaningful, inspirational photos from atop Masada, which we climbed circa 5:00am on a Friday to watch the sun rise. But I'd rather share this one with you, just because I want you to know how serious I am about my love for the Buckeye State:

DEAD SEA. I was under the mistaken impression that you actually needed the mud in order to float, but nope - the mud is just for the fun of it! Also, did I mention that there was a dude sitting on the beach flashing us his man-bits as we floated by?

Also, we played in a waterfall. Not the "Look at this whimsical waterfall!" kind of thing you find at, say, Disney World, but a real live (?) waterfall in the middle of a national park across from the Dead Sea. And hyraxes hung out with us. Or cowered in fear nearby, but still.

While staying at Ohalo Manor on the Sea of Galilee, we did a little bit of a college throw-back by hosting a houseparty in what was essentially an Israeli dorm room. We welcomed everyone who entered the room with a hearty "AYYYYY!" & someone brought pepper vodka. And there was much happiness & merriment from some unexplained aerial view.

This is my new friend Harrison, whose band, Earth Minor, is currently rocking my world (pun intended). Have you ever met someone who just deserved to be famous? Because Harrison is one of those guys. Hard-working & dedicated & passionate & the chillest guy ever - oh, & talented, obviously. Go buy his album, Dark Matters, on iTunes, & you'll want to give him a kiss, too.

Because we Jews are all about tikkun olam, or the repair of the world, we spent an afternoon planting trees at a community garden. But because we are also largely a people made up of what I like to call "indoor kids," it was probably quite a sight to watch 40 of us swinging pickaxes. I'd like to note that I'm wearing a Sex Pistols shirt, which doesn't exactly scream "OUTDOORSY!" But whatever: My olive tree is gonna grow tall, y'all, & maybe I'll even force myself to like olives so that I can visit it someday.

We didn't have much free time on the trip, but one night after closing activity, a participant asked if we could have some sort of directed outside-the-hotel time, so our group leaders led a pilgrimage to the Mediterranean Sea just outside our hotel. Jen & I threw a bad-luck charm into the ocean for a proper sea burial (long story), & then we celebrated the return of our good luck & the fact that we were, you know, standing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Next to this particular stretch of the Mediterranean, there's a statue of something that resembles a hobo bag. Or a uterus. And is creepily flesh-colored. So naturally, we posed as though it were the latter. And if I may be so bold, I think I win the Best Awkward Face While Visually Referencing a Uterus Award. Which is a coveted one.

I hate when people use the word "epic." But in this case, it just may be the only word to use. On our last full evening of the trip, our Israeli soldiers took us to a club in Tel Aviv called Gazoz, where we spent the evening dancing & drinking & being, in a word, epically happy. Just look at us!

If you ask me, this picture will never not be funny. Starring Jen as some sort of futuristic, unhappy Yoda. Starring me with excellent photographic timing. And starring our friend Liz as delightfully amused by it all.

Just hours before we left to catch a midnight flight back to New York, we stood in a circle on a hotel rooftop in Tel Aviv wearing matching hoodies & holding hands & singing cheesy songs & recounting our favorite memories & all the many lessons learned. This picture, I think, sums up so much of how I felt, minus all the tears that came right afterward.

When we arrived at JFK circa 4:30am, Jen & I checked our bags through to Cleveland &... got an email that our flight had been canceled. We went to the GAP, bought new outfits for the day, & spent 24 hours wandering the Big Apple with fellow Birthright participants who were still in town. REMIX!

And there you have it, my Israel highlight reel. There is so much I wish I could accurately recount, & the words still haven't come as far as explaining the actual impact of the trip on my neshama, or soul. Maybe they never will. So it's a good thing I've got these pictures, huh? And all these new friends? And a really strong urge to go back?
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