Posts Tagged With: Jerusalem

An Israel Bucket List According to Me

Exactly one week from today, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, headed to to the airport in Newark, New Jersey where my Daddy will be waiting to take me home to Delaware. (I wrote this on Friday night, but published Saturday morning.

Holy cow.

Yes, it has been 15 weeks since I arrived in the Holy Land, and now I’m down to the home stretch of papers and finals (well, two papers and one final, but still) and everyone’s favorites, goodbyes and packing. This weekend is going to be spent in good ol’ Haifa, with a nice group dinner tonight after a final trip to the shuk (market) today. It’s my last Shabbat in Israel and it feels like yesterday I was saying it was the first. But for my second-to-last blog post, I thought I’d give you all my “Top 10 Must-Do while in Israel” list, based exclusively on my opinion and the places I visited. It’s completely biased, but I hope you like it anyway and if you ever plan a trip here, make an effort to see a couple of the things on this list. Here they are (in no particular order).

1. JerusalemThere really isn’t anything like it in the world. Holy to three major world religions and centuries and centuries of history, you just can’t experience anything like anywhere else in the world. See the Western Wall and put your hopes and dreams and prayers on a paper and stick it in a crack with a million others like it. Wander the Old City and buy something from one of the gazillions of shops. Eat falafel on a rooftop, visit a museum (or a dozen) and make sure one of them is Yad Vashem. But above all in Jerusalem, just be there, in the moment, and feel the history all around you.

2. Tel Aviv And then there’s Tel Aviv. It’s a whole other animal compared to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv feels young and fresh where Jerusalem is learned and wise. Jerusalem is where you think about the past and Tel Aviv is where the only thing you think about is right now. Eat at the great restaurants, get a drink at the great bars, sun on the great beaches and enjoy.
3. Small city- When you’re done with the big cities, head to small one. We’ve visited a few here that I think are just adorable. They’re calm and quaint and have a tremendous amount of heart and character. Just spend a morning or an afternoon seeing what there is to see, because you never know what you may find.
4. West Bank This is a complicated place and I think it’s extremely important to get a well-rounded perspective. So go to the West Bank and meet the people and see the other side. It may seem intimidating, but once you’re there, it’s totally not, so go, go, go. You won’t regret it.
5. Tsefat This is a whole other ball game of religious identity in Israel and it was awesome. When you’re there, you can literally feel the faith radiating out of the walls and the hearts of the people. There’s color and art and history and religion and just about anything else from that sort of world you can imagine.
6. Dead Sea Weirdest feeling ever. You have to go in. You just have to. You’ll feel like a cork bobbing up and down and you’ll laugh and paddle around and maybe get covered with mud and take silly pictures and then you will always be able to say you swam in the Dead Sea.
7. Masada Is hauling your butt out of bed at 3:45 in the morning difficult? Yes. Is climbing over 5o stories worth of roughly-cut stone stairs one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life? Heck, yes. But is making it to the top of an ancient city and watching the sun rise over the mountains of Jordan totally worth it? A million times yes. So climb climb climb, don’t stop for nothing, and you’ll have a morning you’ll never forget.
8. Major holiday- I had my fair share of them here, from Purim to Passover and many more, but no matter what, try and experience one, whether it is Jewish or Israeli or a cultural hyrbid (Purim). It’s just really fun watching a good portion of the country celebrate.
9. Hike in the South Rough-cut red desert rocks and loose sand with scraggly brush sticking everywhere and wind cutting across the barren landscape? Yes please. Hike in southern Israel and you’ll really understand the whole “Wow it must have stunk to wander in the desert for 40 years” concept. But it’s a very interesting place to be and to see, especially if you’re from the eastern United States and it literally feels like Mars.
10. Hike in the North A whole other animal. Those eastern Americans I mentioned will probably feel more at home in this landscape, which is just beautiful. There are giant trees and flowing creeks and snow-capped mountains on the horizon and it’s a really really pleasant way to spend a few days.

So if you’re coming to Israel, take a gander at your itinerary and check if you’re stopping at these spots. If you’re not, think about it. This is such a diverse place and you should really try and experience every different square inch of it. Thanks for reading!

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That time I went to the West Bank

You went where???? Yes, yes, I left “regular” Israel for the week and crossed over into the West Bank…and I had a great time. So let’s take it day by day, shall we?

Friday: Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah

From the university, eleven of us headed south to Jerusalem, where we walked to Damscus gate and caught a bus to the city of Ramallah. In Ramallah, we had some great shwarma and wandered the city, seeing what there was to see, which included a Bedouin shop/museum. In this shop, the people proceeded to dress us up in traditional Bedouin garb and let us take pictures inside the tent they’d set up in one of the rooms. This first one is me…

This next one is me, too, with my friend Valerie, but it’s a little hard to tell who I am…

This next one is all the girls in our group in front of the main square of Ramallah. We were a pretty fun group:)

After Bedouin dress-up, wandering Ramallah, one cafe visit, a power nap, an incredible dinner at a Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant and an hour at another cafe, we crashed for the evening.

Saturday: Ramallah to Nablus

We were supposed to go to a museum at Birzeit University but it didn’t open until 12. Instead, the university sent a representative out who took us on a tour of the campus! This was just one of an extraordinary amount of hospitality we saw over the course of our trip. It was a really neat campus, and I’m very glad we got to go.

Post-tour, we caught a bus from Ramallah to the city of Nablus, further north. Once there, we met with leaders of this organization that provides services to youth and kids in the community. Two of them then proceeded to give up their entire afternoons and mornings to show us all around the Old City of Nablus, including two candy factories, a bakery and a visit into the home of one of our tour guide’s aunts who made us all coffee! We also encountered lots of sites where there was damage or had been deaths during different phases of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We also encountered these little boys. They kept saying “Hello! What’s your name! Take our picture!” I think those are the only English phrases they actually knew. I was only to happy to oblige and snap this one of them. They insisted on looking at the picture to make sure they looked good before giving me a thumbs up and running off to play soccer again. They were, in a word, precious.

Our tour of Nablus also included an old, but newly renovated, mosque, and for the first time in the Middle East, I had to cover up my head to go in somewhere. Here’s me and Valerie again, outside the mosque.

We had dinner with our guides overlooking the city of Nablus, then went back to our hostel, which was very nice, for a very nice night’s rest.

Sidebar: Art in the West Bank

Street art has become a huge part of life in the West Bank. There is graffiti and drawings and murals everywhere, and a lot of it is very cool. The walls of the walkway leading from the street to our hostel in Nablus were no different. This one was my favorite.

Sunday: Nablus to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Haifa

On Sunday morning, we met up with our guides from the day before again, and they took us to a soap factory, the church of Jacob’s Well and one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, where thousands of people live in one square kilometer of space, with almost no privacy and a virtually non-existent economy. It was incredibly eye-opening, and made me so thankful for the life I have here in Israel and back in the States.

After that, our group split. One went to visit family friends in Ramallah, a few headed back to the university to complete homework (yes, we do have that here), and the other six of us headed to Bethlehem. It was another instance of getting to do something I didn’t think I would, so I was pretty pleased. Bethlehem is much much more tourist-y than the other places we’d been in the West Bank. Here is a picture of the outside of the Church of the Nativity.

It was essentially built around the cave (stable) where Jesus is said to have been born. It is one of the oldest continually-operating churches in the world. Of course, we went to see the spot where it is said he lay, and here’s me standing in front of the arc-type thing that surrounds it.

Christians making a pilgrimage to the site kneel down behind me there and touch the spot, where there’s a star on the floor, or rub things on it, like handkerchiefs. I really won’t ever forget visiting this place that’s so important to so many people in my life and around the world.

After a few hours in Bethlehem, we headed back to Jerusalem (with a stop at a checkpoint at the dividing wall, where a soldier from the IDF had to check our passports), and spent a while waiting for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot  to end so we could get on a bus back to Haifa. The good part of that is that I got to spend a little more time in the Old City, taking in the bustle, got to visit the Wall one more time and got to say goodbye to Jerusalem. I’ll come back someday, I’m sure of it, but it’s Shalom for now.

Sunday was really a day of diversity: In an Arab-dominated population, I visited one of the main sites of Christianity and then watched tons of Orthodox Jews head to the Wall to thank G-d for the Torah. Talk about multi-cultural. Elon University would be proud.

Was it a long weekend? Absolutely. Hot? Tiring? Sure, but it was a great experience and real exposure to Arab culture, something I haven’t really gotten much of until this point. It was one more thing I needed to really round out my experience. It’s a good thing I did it, too, because I only have one weekend left! I go home in 11 days, so it’s the final stretch. I’ll post a few more times, summing up my experience, so if you have any requests for content, let me know, because this adventure is coming to a close.

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Haifa, Purim, Jerusalem and Rockets Far Far Away

Sorry for the length of time since my last post, but it was a busy week combined with a very busy weekend. We only had three days of classes last week because it was Purim. It is an actual religious holiday, but to an outsider, it can basically be described as a multi-day celebration with costumes and street festivals and general frivolity.

Emily, Eva, Brittany and I all bought super cheap animal ears and party hats and were “party animals.” Oh the ingenuity that comes with thriftiness. It was a good time that lasted from Wednesday night through Friday and spanned both Haifa and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, since the holiday meant no class on Thursday, three of us walked down the entire mountain to the beach, which you can see from everywhere on campus. It only took us around two and a half hours, although we’re pretty confident we can get it down to two since we really know what we’re doing. It was a really nice walk and I am eager to do it again when the weather is nice. We of course, took the bus back up.

So on Friday, we went to Jerusalem! We stayed in a hostel, which was an experience. It was right next to the Damascus Gate into the Old City and only a ten minute walk from Ben Yehuda Street, but was um…a hostel. So, you get what you get when you only pay 25 bucks a night. But we had a good time wandering through a Purim street festival on Friday afternoon, then heading to the Western Wall for the start of Shabbat. Seeing so many people doing the same prayers was really very moving.

Saturday was full of wandering wandering wandering through the Old City because most of the museums and such that we would have gone to were closed because it was Shabbat. That’s something that’s not as noticeable in Haifa, but definitely is in Jerusalem.

One museum that was open was the Tower of David museum, which is a really old fortress that is now a museum about the history of the city. It was a rather nice way to spend several hours. The weather was also absolutely gorgeous. It was just warm enough that we all got some sun, but not so warm that we were sweaty. And, as always, we practiced the cardinal rule of exploring an unknown land…when in doubt, or when lost or sad or confused or just breathing, eat! Fallafel, shwarma, dried fruit, weirdly awesome honey balls, just eat! I also had my first haggling experience where I got an embroidered tapestry (the one thing I really really really wanted from Israel) from one of the shops in Jerusalem. His initial ask was 400 NIS and I paid 200 NIS, and it is the one souvenir I will probably buy myself the whole time I’m here (besides food). It is now proudly hanging up in my dorm room.

On Sunday, we went to Yad Vashem, where I was awed and overwhelmed by the beautiful and touching simplicity of every square inch. For those who don’t know, Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum on Mt. Herzel, and is a must-see for anyone who has any sort of reverence for the tragedy that consumed so many lives so needlessly.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as long as I wanted there or take it in as much as I really would have liked to because Mother Nature decided to kick my butt and make me very sick very fast. The past few days have been a string of feverishness, blowing my nose and lots of coughing but I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and a date with some Nyquil another International School student has tonight.

Wow, that was a long one, but kudos if you read all the way through. Another post will follow this week before our hike.

Oh and the rockets? What rockets? All of that is far far away, I promise and by the way, it’s not really news here. It’s just life. So never fear. All is well.

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My first post!

For all my talk about being a writer, it sure did take me a while to start a blog recapping my big adventure abroad. But here it is! And here, in this post, I’ll recap the last eight days in Israel…

Sunday, February 19- Monday, February 20

After a very long flight from Newark to Tel Aviv (thankfully it was direct), my friend Emily and I arrived around 9 a.m. and joined up with James, another student in our program here at the International School of the University of Haifa. We took a shuttle (sherut) up the coast to the school, checked in, settled into our room (Emily and I are roomies) and by 1 in the afternoon (4 a.m. East Coast time), I was barely coherent. We took a nap, then wandered around, then met up with the rest of the International School kids, where we continued getting oriented for the next day, including a tour of Haifa, a tour of the campus and lots of “getting to know you” stuff.

Tuesday, February 21 – Wednesday, February 22

Classes started. I got placed in Hebrew 2! Hooray! Adventures also ensued to the mall (Israelis love malls). Etc, etc, etc….

Thursday, February 21

I turned 21!!!! It was my birthday and my wonderful new friends helped me celebrate. We went to an Asian restaurant, then an Irish pub then a dance club. It was really really great. I made sure I knew how to say “Hayom yom hooledet shelee!” That means “Today is my birthday.”

Friday, February 24 – Saturday, February 25

Friday and Saturday can be pretty lazy around here since it’s the Israeli weekend and everything really shuts down from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon for Shabbat. There was a trip to the grocery store and back to the mall on Saturday night, but that’s really all. It was very relaxing.

Sunday, February 26

On the first of many study tours run by the program, we went to Jerusalem! It was a very long but very informative day and it just made us all want to go back and learn more. The streets we were walking on have been there for literally hundreds and hundreds of years. That’s something you just can’t get in the States. This is a picture of the Western Wall. There are millions of hopes, wishes and prayers shoved in the cracks between the giant stones from people of every walk of life. Even if you don’t believe in a higher being, you can still believe in the power of that much faith crammed into one tiny space. It makes you feel so small.

Monday, February 27 and Today!

With a full week under our belts now, Week Two of classes has begun. It’s much less stressful here than in the States, and I have lots of free time. I’m also well-rested, which is quite a feat. I’ll post again later this week before a trip this weekend to the desert to hike and the resort town of Eilat. Until then…

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