Thank you all for being so patient while I was traversing through Europe! I’m currently sitting in the airport in Paris. It is about 7 pm and am waiting overnight here, to catch my flight back to Tel Aviv tomorrow morning. I wanted to continue sharing my amazing experiences on Birthright, so that I shall. Day 3 During my last post, I left off at my first Friday Shabbat experience, and those of you who know anything about the Jewish culture, Shabbat continues on until Saturday. Besides the holy aspect of Shabbat, it is really about a “day of rest”, that Israel and the jewish culture find important to exhibit. So of course, that meant that our Saturday or Day 3 was all about rest and easiness. One of the things that Israeli’s and many of our soldiers shared with us, is that shabbat is one of their favorite times of the week. After having to be in the army all week, usually they get to go home for the weekend during shabbat. For them, being young adults with little of their own planned days, it’s all about taking the time to do things that they really like to do or can’t do during the week. Whether it’s swimming, going to the beach, visiting a different city, visiting with family or just relaxing at home or with friends–they feel it is a special time to relax and enjoy. It was very interesting to be in a city where our bus driver couldn’t drive during the days of shabbat, so we walked if we went anywhere. Almost everything is closed down, with the exception of Tel-aviv and large hotels, etc, and even our hotel observed shabbat in some way. To go around the jewish law that requires observers to abstain from operating electric switches on shabbat, the hotel designates two elevators called “Shabbat elevators”, that work in a special mode automatically, by stopping on every single floor (dreaded by all unlucky enough to get on one by accident in a 17 floor hotel)! Anyways, back to what our group actually did on our “day of rest”, we finally didn’t have to drag ourselves out of bed at 6 or 7 am and got to sleep in until 10. We had our usual buffet breakfast and met with the group in the lobby, for a few short stops on our walk to the Israel Museum (one of the only things actually open). First stop was the Courthouse, where our guide Yariv went over some of the government systems, how a person gets elected, and more interesting information and inter workings on all things politics. Afterwards, we headed to the Israel Museum, located in the city of Jerusalem, not far from our hotel, containing many different types of exhibits from modern art, to archaeology and so on so forth. We had time to split up on our own and choose a section of the large museum we wanted to see. Running late, we only had a small window to see a few exhibits, so by recommendation by our guide, my sister and a few of us chose to view the archaeology exhibit. It was very cool, many different historical pieces from all types of nations found in Israel from Egyptian pottery to lavish jewels. I definitely enjoyed our short time here and wished we had more time to see some of the other rooms. Replica Rebuild of the old city of Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. After walking back to the hotel, we had some free time for that “day of relaxing”, some of us choosing to catch up on some sleep, while many of us decided to head to the amazing pool at our hotel, where hundreds of other Birthrighter’s staying in our hotel, joined in on the fun. After a lax evening in the sun and poolside, we headed to our rooms and readied ourselves for dinner and Havdalah Service. Havdalah service is what marks the end of Shabbat, on the evening of each Saturday night. This ceremony requires three things: a glass of wine or liquid, some kind of fragrant or spice, and a special Havdalah candle that gets lit. Blessings are made over each item, and then a sip of wine and sniff of fragrant commence. For my very first ceremony of this kind, it was very interesting and beautiful. We were lucky enough to have one of our Israeli soldiers friends come to sing the prayer, as we all stood in a circle in a grassy area in Jerusalem, sharing wine and singing together, welcoming in the new week. Our group was already growing quite comfortable and close with each other, and we were only just approaching day 4. Every night, we met with the group to either go over the plan for the following day, or play group activities that helped us get to know each other better and prepare for things we might encounter mentally the next day. Our itinerary for Sunday was to be a heavy hearted emotional one, with a tour of Mount Herzl Cemetery and Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. So for group activity, we had cards on the ground with words and had to pick a word that pulled to us. I chose Racism, and had a discussion with those who chose my word, discussing why we chose it and what it meant, sharing with the whole of the group afterwards. It was an intense preparation and discussion, members of the group sharing family stories of those they knew or were related to, who died or survived during the Holocaust. I don’t know why, but I had never really equated the fact that I’m part jewish, with the idea of the holocaust and how I might have had some distant relative involved or affected by it. After an emotional evening, we all retired to bed. Day 4: Mt. Herzl Cemetery–Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum–Western Wall So day four was jam packed with a full itinerary. We woke up for another delicious buffet breakfast that I could definitely get used to every morning. We headed early to Mt. Herzl, to the cemetery where fallen IDF soldiers were laid to rest. Our soldiers prepared a song for us, sharing the difficulty of serving in the army and the sad fact that they have probably known someone who has died serving. The fact that these young adults leave high school, knowing their only initial option is to serve in the army, made me realize how lucky I am that I had the choice of what college to go to or if I even wanted to go to school. The fact that I was born in a country where we are free to make our choices upon joining adulthood, and yet many of us take for granted our opportunities and freedoms, gave me much respect for the 10 people we had the privilege of sharing a trip with. We walked down towards Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which is just a short walk on the same property as Mt. Herzl. I had been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. once before on an eighth grade trip for school, but this holocaust museum blew that one out of the water. Yad Vashem is the biggest holocaust museum in the world, being the only official Jewish country it would only make sense that it had the biggest collection of information and stories. We took a guided tour, which was on a ridiculously crowded day, so we went through relatively quickly, and it was so appalling and shocking to again see everything. I didn’t realize how much Anti-Semitism still exists today in many countries and still in our own country, under the surface and publicly. I don’t understand why others hate Jewish people so much, or why they are the ones to blame for so many things. To see how easy it was to persuade millions of people to want to kill or extinguish an entire race/heritage, was unfathomable to my comfortable way of thinking. One of the things that really struck me during this visit, was a room with tons of shoes underneath the floor, glass encased for us to walk over, the only things left of many of those shot and killed or gassed in the concentration camps. I got really choked up during the discussion of these nameless people whose shoes we hovered over. From tiny baby shoes, to women’s fashion sandals, I couldn’t help but think who were these women and men, what was their story–what types of fashion had they once been into before the war and how could they have deserved such a cruel and unfair fate. These shoes, some looking so normal, I could have seen myself wearing if I had been born in that time. It really made me feel the connection and anger for these people realizing I’m not at all different from them, and if even born a few decades earlier or if my family hadn’t lived in America, could have seen the same fate. Unfortunately couldn’t take any pictures inside, however some cool views of Jerusalem from the atop the mountain. For lunch, we went to an area in Jerusalem for lunch, where I had my first Shwarma of the trip and it was SO delicious. After lunch we headed to Jerusalem for a tour of the Jewish Quarter. We stood in the room that was the supposed place where the “Last Supper” was held, which was a pretty unreal moment. Walking around the old city, and imagining how many historic figures and history that has occurred there over thousands of years, was pretty amazing to experience. We walked to an area overlooking the rooftops of Jerusalem, with a view of the Western Wall-Kotel. After going through a quick security screening, elbows and knees covered up and all, I finally got to write down a prayer on paper and stick it in the wall (one of my highly anticipated activity of the trip). We hopped around to a few different places, and had such a fun time dancing, smoking hookah and hanging out with new friends, an epic night I will never forget from the trip. At about midnight we retired back to our hotel, to pack and prepare for our next destination of the trip, the army base! That about sums up day 3-4 in a very (long) post, but I couldn’t help but want to share all my experiences with you. Hope you enjoyed and stay tuned this coming week to find out all about my Israeli Army Base experience, and my experiences during the Israeli-Gaza conflict!