Israel Take Two
Thinking of joining a Discover Israel Birthright trip? Read Hannah's blog!
I chose to go on Birthright with Israel Experts because I had friends who recommended the trips. Although some of the interest-based trips sounded cool, I wanted the most well rounded experience I could find. Discover Israel did not disappoint. We hit so many of the well-known spots you have to see in Israel. Birthright was my second time visiting Israel and there were still many activities I did for the first time and the ones I was doing again had so much more meaning as a 25 year old than they did when I was 16. Plus I got to experience it all with my sister!
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A few of my favorite parts of Israel were visiting the Old City in Jerusalem and the Western Wall; riding camels in the desert; the view on top of Masada; and the Dead Sea. These are big parts of Israel and some of the activities everyone on my trip looked most forward to. The history in Jerusalem is incredible. At the Western Wall we got time to ourselves to go up to the wall and pray if we wanted to and then our group celebrated a symbolic B’nai Mitzvah for 15 participants who had never been Bar/Bat Mitzvahed. The trip overall was not religious (I would describe it as more spiritual) so this was probably the most religious aspect.
Riding camels was really fun because we got to do it right at the end of the day when the sun was setting. I got some great pictures and I had fun riding the camel with my sister, Rachel. Masada was one of the tougher hikes because the plateau is so steep (other hikes included a short waterfall hike and a longer mountain in the north). We woke up very early to climb up Masada and watch the sunrise over the mountains and the Dead Sea, which was beautiful. The climb down was harder because of the heat but the view made it all worth it. From Masada we went straight to the Dead Sea, where we had a nice falafel lunch and got to swim. The Dead Sea mud was fun to scoop up and lather on, and it made our skin so smooth. Floating in the Dead Sea is just as cool as everyone says it is, even the second time around.
Discover Israel also gave me some new favorite parts of Israel. Mahane Yehuda Market, or “The Shuk” is the main open marketplace in Jerusalem. During the day you can find breads, fruits, falafels, candy, etc. from all the different vendors and at night it turns into a cool area to go out, full of little bars and restaurants. I loved that we got to experience The Shuk in both the daytime and nighttime to appreciate how much it has to offer. An unexpected favorite of mine was an organic farm in the desert. I didn’t really know what to expect because it sounded a little earthy-crunchy, but when we got there and they started showing us around I quickly realized how cool it was to be able to grow so many delicious fruits and vegetables in the desert. Plus they let us try so many different types of tomatoes, berries, and herbs, and we got to uproot our own carrots. In addition to learning about agriculture in the Negev desert, it was tasty and a great photo op!
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food. Israeli food is so good and was honestly one of the biggest things I was excited for in returning to Israel. I’m a huge coffee drinker and on the kibbutzism we stayed at there was usually only Turkish instant coffee, so every time we were out I would stop to get good coffee. In Israel if you want American iced coffee you have to ask for “cold coffee” or iced Americano, otherwise you end up with basically a better version of a coffee Coolatta/Frappuccino. The frozen Israeli iced coffee is great on hot days, so I usually went with that. Aroma Espresso Bar is one of my favorites and is a must-try if you’ve never been to one. I also ate so much falafel and hummus during Birthright. Every city you stop in for lunch has little falafel and shwarma shops. I had falafel for lunch almost everyday; I wanted to take advantage while I had access to the best! There was great food in the shuks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but some of us also stopped at a little pastry place near the Jaffa Flea Market for lunch that day we were there. They had lots of options all fresh and smelling so good. The warm pastries we all tried full of cheese and different vegetables were so good.
The one thing I might do differently if I had Birthright to do over would be to extend my trip. I didn’t know it was such a big thing and so easy to do. If I had even 3 extra days, staying would have been so worth it. But my 10-day experience was still amazing! Overall, Birthright met and surpassed my expectations. Going to Israel for the second time, I was a little skeptical that this experience could top my last one. But I can honestly say I had the time of my life on Birthright, traveling all over Israel with my sister and making great friends from all over the United States!