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Meet One of Our Past Discover Israel Participants

Sarah Dunham
Sarah Dunham Birthright Israel

Our first stop was our tour guide Gil’s home kibbutz. It overlooked the Sea of Galilee, like it was nothing. We met some adult goats, met some baby goats, waved at Gil’s daughter out playing with friends on our way to the kibbutz pub for rules and regulations, "brought to you by Israel Experts".

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The view and the winds atop Mt. Bental attempted to blow us away. Should we be worried? There were Syria and Lebanon; maybe down in the valley someone from one of those boogeyman terrorist groups we hear on the evening news with a frisson of fear was looking back at us. My mind was untroubled with everything but keeping my hat from flying away and the numbness of my hands. We escaped gratefully to the bunker below and took photos with some friendly and good-looking Australian soldiers.

Since we had one day cut from our trip due to an airline strike, we had to scrunch to fit everything. Gil wasn’t sure we’d have time to stop at the winery kibbutz for a tasting; we did have time. Israel never tasted so good as pomegranate, passion fruit, and dark chocolate wines. I thought about skipping my return flight and escaping back to work there, at the winery. 

We pushed onward to Tzfat, magical city of mysticism. In the burgeoning twilight, all quiet, the lamps glowing warmly, we passed the full synagogues and considered active prayer. Two passing gentlemen explained the Messiah’s alley, and Gil shared the true parable of the crazy old lady on the balcony with her tea and coffee. We were lucky to be the only group there, and we whispered, our steps hesitant to break the waiting peace. 

We climbed the curves of Haifa and looked down over the Baha'i Temple Gardens. We waved to our bus driver Moshe’s daughter and dog as we inched past his apartment, Moshe jokingly yelling at his daughter over the phone to take a picture of his bus. 

We drove into Tel Aviv for a night out. A group of us wandered before finding a bar and sitting outside. It was wonderful weather: just cool enough that the heat lamps casting red glows over our photos were welcome but not necessary. 

 “Disneyland” Bedouin was perfect. The introductory talk on Bedouin hospitality and the coffee-grinding music was lovely. Dinner was, of course, on the floor, and the tea was sweet and plentiful. We sang around the fire and chatted before going to bed. The tent was warm and surprisingly comfortable. 

Jeweled pomegranates and oranges tempted me into getting some of the freshly squeezed juice for sale outside the grocery store. A woman from Florida who had lived there for 7 years assured me it was the best. It was the best-- fresh and refreshing and slightly sour. I needed it after the Black Friday-esque Shabbat rush inside the store.

Saturday morning was warm and bright, and I got to lead yoga. The view at Sde Boker was spectacular in the morning sun.

The rain curtained around the bus. My new Israeli friend Amit played “Silent Night” on the harmonica as we caught our first glimpses of Jerusalem. 

The children’s memorial at Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum) was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s dark, and quiet, peaceful. A tape reads off the names, ages, and homes of the murdered children. All around you are stars, floating in the darkness, stretching away into infinity. 

I didn’t think I could manage lunch, which we had after Yad Vashem. There was a long line at the falafel shop though, and I‘m glad I joined it. The resulting wrap was as big as my entire forearm, and so delicious. 

I also didn’t think, after the somber day, we could manage partying out in Jerusalem. I surprised myself again, and we had a wonderful time in the shuk. There was a dance-off. It was awesome. 

Our last day (already?), and our only day in the Old City of Jerusalem, was cold and miserable that morning. The heights of Jerusalem were hazy as we climbed them. The rain had stopped when we reached the Kotel. It was about noon, and it wasn’t crowded at all. I closed my eyes, rested my head on the smooth, oily stones, pressed my hands beside it, and listened. The Muslim call to worship echoed above the sounds of Hebrew prayers. After a long moment, I stepped away and left my prayers. 

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