Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Day 1 – The Flight

Alright so lets start off with some information. Birthright (as I know it) is a concept held by many organizations to provide a trip, free of all charge, to Israel for Jewish people of ages between 16 and 26. This is intended to show us youngun’s what Israel is, and to encourage us to make more trips in the future. It’s an organization that many people donate to, and has been going on for about 9 years now (I think). The group I went with was part of the organization Israel Outdoors, and the trip I went on was the LAX trip from May 14th to May 26th.

Over the days of this trip, I kept an outline of all the activities we did and some more important details. I hope to recall the smaller details and turn my 8 pages of notes into 10 posts. It will be set up with the description on the left and the pictures I have taken on the right. When it is all done, I will create a webpage that will be easier to navigate and will have larger photos (probably). That will as well link to the other people on my trip.

And I’d just like to say, before starting this off, that this was an amazing trip. And if you have not been on Birthright, and you are eligible to go, THEN GO. If you need further convincing, read the rest of my report.

And by the way, this is an awesome song.

May 14th, 2005
I left the house around noon, something of that sort, and went to the San Jose airport where I checked in my bags and met up with Michelle! An excited hug and then we found a place to chill. We started to list movies that we needed to see and I drew this weird protesting guy (I really liked how it came out too).
The flight from SJO to LAX was short, and I really didn’t notice it. Once we got off at LAX we had to get our bags out of baggage claim and take a shuttle to another terminal with all the international flights. We were really early. The emails had told us to arrive 4 hours before departure, and we got there about an hour early if I remember correctly. So we had a very nice dinner in the restaurant there, and then went outside to try to see someone with the Israel Outdoors t-shirt on.
Here we decided to play an extremely entertaining game which we entitled “Find-The-Confused-Jew” in which we looked for people who were probably Jewish, and looked completely lost, which these two features would confirm that they were on the Birthright trip with us. We didn’t say anything to these people, just guessed, and actually it turned out later that we had a pretty high success rate. I remember seeing Dan, and Jessica, and a few others.
Soon we went inside and found the person we needed to find and went upstairs where we saw all these strangers who we would come to know very well over the next 10 days. Kind of awkward, and I had no idea that there would be 40 people (I was thinking around 20, 30 at most). Met our group coordinator, Meredith, and our group… whatever, Shmulek (Sam).
We went to the check-in counter for El-Al, the Israeli airline, where we were INTERROGATED. These Israeli security people bombarded us with question after question about pretty random stuff, trying to catch us off guard or test if we were lying. My guy was especially mean, and asked me about being Jewish, why I wanted to go to Israel, if I could speak Hebrew, why I hide my Star of David pendant (it just goes under my shirt!). It made me really nervous, but they were doing their jobs.
Then we sat in the Gate area and made introductions. We got in a circle leaving our bags to do this (which I knew was a bad idea) which turned out to be a bad idea because the security people made us all leave and come back in one by one with another security check.
Got on the plane a bit past midnight, and were on our way to Israel!

May 15th, 2005
On the flight, I sat next to this seemingly crazy Israeli lady who occasionally would say things to me, even though I made it clear I didn’t speak Hebrew (she acknowledged this, but would still talk to me). I slept a lot. A lot. I woke up once and saw some large city which I assumed was Denver, or Omaha, or Chicago. Something in that vicinity. I read a bit of my book, 1984, which I was determined to finish by the end of the trip.
We made a small stop in Toronto, where they had us sit in a lounge that had some ok coffee and Orthodox jews in the corner praying.
Got back on the plane for the longest part of the trip, the 10 hour flight to Israel. Fortunately the crazy Israeli lady went to another seat (I think she wanted someone to talk to), and I got two seats all for myself. This was very lovely for me, cause I could stretch out and have a very nice sleep. The movies were bleh so I didn’t have to worry about that, and I spent the time sleeping and reading and listening to my iPod (which lasted the entire way considering I turned it off when I slept).
When we finally got off the plane, I checked beneath my seat and found some torn up photos that I had seen the crazy lady looking through earlier. Why had she torn them up? There were pictures of small cute children on them… which seemed incredibly depressing. I wish I could have talked to her about whatever it was troubling her. I took some pieces so that at least someone in this world will have these fragments of a moment, and not be thrown into the garbage.
Then we went through customs, which wasn’t that bad (though we kind of had a race of who would get through the line first), and got our bags and met the head guy (who’s name eludes me for the moment) and our guide, IRAD!!! Who is a very cool guy.
Got on the bus, got some money from some exchange guy, and headed off towards Jerusalem (starting a day without sleeping).

note: even though the date changed to the 16th while still on the flight, i’m going to separate days at the bus point instead because it seems more correct


Day 2 – Jerusalem

So we were on the bus to Jerusalem. All of us were pretty exhausted from the plane but managing to stay awake. The sun was rising, which made the entire area very majestic and nice. A good introduction to the country.

First we went to a lookout spot where we could see the whole valley. Looked across at the old city, the famous gravesite mountain, a couple other mountains and towers, and just a brilliant site. We said the prayer for celebrating the event, then had wine and bread. Then had a lunch while sitting on the grass. (Really bad bagels, I didn’t eat mine).

Jerusalem, even at its first glance, is very interesting. There is an architectural uniformity that all buildings have to abide to, which is to be covered on the outside by a specific Jerusalem Limestone. As with Santa Fe, this feature really enforces a direct personality upon the entire city. There are also Israeli flags EVERYWHERE. People here are completely patriotic, which I find completely inspiring and beautiful. Things are also very very ancient, and all these people are living in a city that has existed for thousands of years. I also like the ravens, which are not entirely black but still just as witty.

We went into the old city, the Jewish Quarter, entering through the Zion Gate and making our way down the alleyways and pathways. The cobblestones there are so completely worn that in some places you can slip quite easily. There is visual worn and history embedded everywhere.

We got to a small terrace and saw the temple area with the Dome of the Rock, the mosque, and the Western Wall. Then we went to the South Wall to learn about archeology, the temple, and other things.

First we were shown a computer generated reconstruction of the temple. The woman presenting this used some sort of program that allowed her to go anywhere using the mouse, which was really cool.

Then we went to see a corny and hilarious movie that was dubbed in English with some ridiculous guy that looked like a Jewish Abraham Lincoln. Very funny, and moments like “What is this cup?”

Then we went out to look around the South Wall, which was pretty big and cool. THEY HAVE HONEYSUCKLE THERE!!! which I enjoyed. Saw the steps that led into the temple, and looked at a place where a market and street used to be.

Then we went to the Western Wall. What I didn’t expect but made sense was that they separated men and women who went to the wall. It was crowded, as expected, and very interesting. There were festive BarMitzvahs happening every couple minutes from this one gate at the left of the place, which was kind of cool. I left a small note.

Then walked around the Old City, had a pizza for lunch (which was eh, alright), and looked in a couple shops.

We looked at various ancient ruins. We were looking up at some window when a woman who was living there spontaneously invited us all up to her apartment. So all 40 of us crammed into her small living space and she talked to us about living in Israel, what she does, and all these things. She was really nice and invited us to come back sometime.

On the way out we saw some kids playing in a fountain and it was really cute.

We then took the bus to our next destination, which was a hotel a little while away. On the way there we saw a protest happening outside on the street, where students were blocking the road to make a statement against withdrawing from the Palestinian areas. We saw some guard smack a girl on the head and drag her off to a vehicle. Later when watching the news we saw the same protest going on. It was very interesting.

Got to the hotel, and explored around with Asof. Saw where things were, and then headed to dinner. Then went to a meeting which I think I fell asleep during. Michelle woke me up and I dragged myself upstairs to collapse into bed.


Day 11 – Holocaust Museum and Flight Home

Asof wakes me up and tells me we have 5 minutes before the bus leaves, so we pack rapidly and rush down to the bus. I manage to make enough time to buy a bunch of postcards and a hat for Sam from the gift shop in the hotel.

It was on the bus I think that I realized that the hole in my pants on my right thigh had gotten significantly larger, and if one took a third glance they might be able to see my boxers. So I tried to close this by tying the straps-that-have-no-use around them. Worked a little bit, but as the day went on the hole got larger… Anyway

Went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, a new one that opened recently I believe. First we sat and listed to a survivor of the Holocaust make a speech. I’m sure it was wonderful, but I was just too tired and fell asleep. Got up and went to the main museum area. This was a long triangular hallway with the exhibits coming out the sides. Very interesting to look at, but very poorly set up in terms of if there were a fire.

The problem with the museum trip was that there were way too many people there when we were. Many, many many fat evil ugly tourists with no sense of direction or respect. They’d push you out of the way or bump into you with their evil unbathed presence and wouldn’t even say excuse me or pardon me. And they’re all old gross fat people with huge breasts or guts. They completely ruined the experience, and made it very unenjoyable. So I went through the place quite fast, glancing at most of the exhibits they had but not reading into them. I’ve grown up with lessons of the Holocaust bombarded against me, and frankly I think I’ve heard enough and I know what happened and how tragic it was. I feel I don’t need to have any more of it.

After exiting we all waited while the rest of the group trickled out (many others did the same as me), we went to the Children’s Memorial, which was dedicated to all the children who died. The room they had there was amazing. They had made a dark room with mirrors set up all around, and put a couple lights in strategic places to make it look like you were walking in a field of stars. Really cool, and maybe I could do it in my house somehow…

Then we got a talk by the guy who was being our tour guide for the museum, which again I was too tired to hear what he was saying, but we filled out forms and got a pin and went to the gift store. Then got lunch, which was terrible pizza. Then left.

Didn’t take the bus, since the next place was within walking distance. It was a Mt Hertzel graveyard for prime ministers and soldiers. Lots of graves of important people, but not that interesting. I always thought of gravesites as places that you go to give respect to people, and not go as tourists going through a country to look at. Although first we went to this big square place where I found these tie wrap things on the ground and used them to fix the hole in my pants, which worked quite well…

There was a group of kids who were walking by us, and kind of spontaneously I decided to say “hi!” to them. A couple kids said back his and hellos, then I decided to say, and a bit louder for some reason, “SHALOM!!!” and almost all of them said back in unison “SHALOM!” AND IT WAS THE MOST AWESOME THING THAT WAS AWESOME. That made me quite happy.

Left the place, got on a bus for a Kibbutz and our final destination. This place, Pinat Shorashim, had an area where people had constructed various artsy sculptures that you could play on, and signs with biblical quotes on them. Kind of like a camp… And also like camp, there was this hippy guy there who talked to us about spirituality. He was a fun guy and said some really interesting stuff. Had dinner, and then he took us on a tour around the place.

Then we jammed out while waiting to leave, which was nice. On the bus ride we all sang the popular Israeli songs that we had come to learn and love, and then suddenly we were at the airport. Said goodbye to the people who were extending their trip. Then went through security. My bags were double checked because the jam jar looked suspicious. Then went to the gate.

Made a candy run and stocked up on various things, spending my last shekels. Then went to the liquor store and spent a bit there to bring back to the US (which oddly enough, I didn’t run into problems with customs at all over. They didn’t even mention it. I was very nervous about that because I had much more than the right limit…).

Waited in the gate for a bit, and then left.

May 26th, 2005
For about 90% of the flight I slept. I had switched seats from the very back row to the very front row (of the business class), which was an exit seat and there was just the wall to the bathroom in front of me. This way, I could put my feet up on the wall and get into some weird position that would allow me easier sleep. Still hurt like hell though.

I sat next to a cute girl and we traded candy and she turned out to be someone who had gone on Birthright a year or two ago and loved it so much that she went back this year (on a trip of her own, you can’t go on Birthright more than once). Anyhow, she was nice.

The breakfast was really crappy. Plus, from the beginning of the flight I had gotten progressively terribly sick. Bleh.

Landed in Toronto, rested in the lounge they put us in, and then got back on the plane. Went home. Slept a lot of that trip too. Landed in LAX.

Got our bags, and went through customs amazingly fast and painlessly. Then we all said goodbye to each other (except for the people going on the Southwest flight).

Went to the Southwest terminal area and stood in a million lines. Finally got to the gates and had a small lunch. Hung out with people while waiting for flights, and finally Michelle and I left for our flight. But our flight was delayed 30 minutes, which was bleh but whatever. Got a seat, and I just completely knocked out slept from take-off to landing. Mom was there to pick me up, and said goodbye to Michelle. Came back home and took a long long nap.