Home September 2013 Trip of a Lifetime, Part 2

Trip of a Lifetime, Part 2

Although nothing could top Shabbat at the Wall, we visited the Wall and the Old City again as part of a conference tour.  Marlon was invited by a Chassid to wrap tefillin, after he assured him that his mother and wife were Jewish and his wife had told their children that she would break both their legs if they failed to marry Jewish!  Wrapping tefillin at the Wall is something Marlon knows would have made his grandfather proud.  The Old City itself was something to experience, with its hustle and bustle, ups and downs (literally) and so much history.
The entire trip was filled with history and tradition – not just our own, but that of our Christian counterparts.  We loved how the Jewish, Muslim and Christians all lived their separate, but yet intertwined, lives and admired the centers that promote peace and shared relationships among the three groups.  Surprisingly, we felt very safe – we rode buses and the new light rail, walked at night (although we did notice that all homes have a lot of security bars) and were not frightened, even when standing next to soldiers with huge Uzi machine guns or being mere feet away from the Lebanon border.
We really enjoyed climbing around Masada (despite the extreme heat) with our guide, who was a prominent Israeli archeologist and knew everything.  Going in the Dead Sea was incredible – much warmer and greasier than we expected, and everyone had a ball slathering ourselves with the mud purported to cleanse and provide therapy to our bodies and our souls.  Of course, a full day at Yad VaShem was an overwhelming but important day for us, and we were impressed with how well done it was.  We also enjoyed the Israel Museum with the new Herod exhibit and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There are many museums left for us to explore on our next trip – we couldn’t get to them all.
Another highlight was exploring neighborhoods on our own, such as the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, where we observed a Shabbat service in a tiny storefront synagogue.  We were surprised at how ghetto-like it was and how isolated those families live (no one even spoke English).  But once they saw that we wanted to experience and not gawk at them, they were friendly and welcoming.  We also enjoyed exploring places like the first neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City and the most affluent area, which was interestingly the only place we found single-family homes versus larger apartment buildings.  We loved the Machane Yehuda market with all of the vibrant colors, delicious smells and lots of activity, and, of course, we shopped on Ben Yehuda Street.
We didn’t spend much time in Tel Aviv, but had one tour where we could see the Bauhaus architecture and the beautiful view from the Jaffa port.  After the conference, we were on our own again and had our biggest adventure when we rented a car and drove North, all the way to the Rosh Hanikra grottos (amazing!) and the Lebanon border, stopping to see all of the sights along the way and touring Haifa for a full day.  We especially liked Caesaria and Akko, where they have blended the new (shops, restaurants and seaside promenades) with the old ruins.
From authentic Middle Eastern cuisine in Abu Ghosh, where we dined with the mayor, to the trendy avant garde in Tel Aviv, to falafel and pita from street vendors to the plentiful daily Israeli buffets that put any American breakfast to shame, we dined well all week.
This phenomenal trip has changed our lives.  We now have a heightened awareness of all things related to Israel and will be more involved and more of an advocate.  We are already dreaming about when we can go back for longer.  (Perhaps an extended sabbatical trip in the future!)  I know it’s far and expensive and it took a conference to give US the impetus to get there, but I strongly encourage everyone to make the trip at least once in your life.  Make sure you encourage your children to go on an organized trip to Israel.  It’s an experience that won’t be forgotten.

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