Thursday, July 16, 2015

First Days in Jerusalem

"Where It All Began" and "Innnovation Vs. Preservation" Written by Nick and Josh The flight was a bumpy and rough one, and no one slept too well - but high spirits abounded as we began our Israel Summer Seminar. We landed at around 3, and after going through customs, awaited the arrival of Rose, who came in from Paris. With the cohort now complete, we headed off into the Holy Land, accompanied by Assaf, our tour guide, Ido, our medic and security person, and Amit, our bus driver. Daniel and Hadas were our Leaders of the Day! Our first stop was the Jerusalem Outlook - we drove from Ben Gurion Airport into the Judean hills, marveling at the amazing scenery outside of the bus windows. Upon approaching the site, we donned eye masks, in order to add to the significance of the view we were about to experience. The view was impressive - a breathtaking window into biblical times: our tour guide, Assaf, reminded us that this view was particulary pertinent to the Tanach. He described the scene, noting, "This is the only place where you can point at the Torah, look up, and say, 'This happened here!'". Dan and Hadas led a brief but meaningful blessing over the occasion, along with a discussion regarding the group's feelings upon finally arriving in Israel. The next morning began our time as Leaders of the Day (Nick and Josh)!. Everyone groggily rose at 7:00 to make it down to breakfast at the hotel which was surprisingly good. There was an omelette bar and a bread cart with rolls of every shape imaginable. We set out on the bus to the Sataf hike, which was a relatively short and easy hike with a great view. We stopped for a ten minute break to draw the view in our notebooks. Although not everyone was too deeply engaged in the drawing aspect, as some people, including me, were not genetically gifted with drawing, everyone definitely enjoyed the chance to sit down and relax and take a deep breath. At least for me, this was the moment that it really dawned on me that we were in Israel. The hike was beautiful. Going along with our seminar theme of Start-Up Nation, Assaf connected the agrigulcutral revolution to innovation. After such a fun and physically engaging activity, we moved toward a more somber and spiritual place - Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery of Israel. There, Assaf led us through the design of the mountain - an architecture fraught with meaning. At the top we visited the grave of Theodore Herzl himself, and talked a little bit about how Herzl was, in many ways, the greatest Jewish innovator of his millennium - his innovation being the conception of the idea of a Jewish State. Also discussed was the purpose of such a site as Mt. Herzl - which we came to understand was for the collective memory of the state - but a small debate arose. Can, and should Israel bury state leaders who have committed crimes on such a sacred site? It was decided that we cannot have a selective collective memory, but rather one that encompasses the entire history of the State. We moved down the mountain to visit the resting places of Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir, two of many influential leaders buried in that area of the cemetery. We then walked down the mountain to visit the graves of fallen IDF soldiers - most notably Americans who had come to Israel to join the IDF as Lone Soldiers without family in Israel. We then heard from Chaim, an ex-Lone Soldier, on the meaning of being an American fighting for Israel, 6000 miles away from your family. That concluded our Mt. Herzl tour, and we returned to our bus. Next we went to the Shuk, which is a famous Israeli marketplace. Prior to getting off the bus, all of the Fellows were given another fellow for a fun little gift exchange. We all had to spend 10 shekels or less on a gift. We were also put in groups to go get lunch, as it was really easy to get lost in the Shuk. Assaf told us on the bus what his favorite places to eat were and he probably said every restaurant that was at the entire marketplace. He also said that we were in the midst of the best falafel in Israel, which is a very bold claim, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was true. The falafel restaurant was right next to where we parked the bus and the friendly man working there gave a free sample to everyone. I have to say they were better than the frozen Trader Joe's falafel that my mom makes. After we ate, we all wandered around to the stores attempting and failing to bargain with the storekeepers. There were beds of whole fish and piles of beans and spices and everything looked fresh and delicious. After wandering through shops that sold strange items and attempting to speak hebrew with people who talked very fast, we all made our way back to the bus. We drove back to the hotel and gave our gifts to our surprise gifts on the bus. The gifts ranged from candy to boxers to flyswatters to back scratchers and everything in between. We drove back to the hotel to meet with a journalist who worked in many different important jewish newspapers. Working at a Jewish paper, much of his recent work was centered around the conflict, and he talked to us about how it is difficult to find a balance between stories that make money and stories that paint the conflict in a picture that is beneficial to society and will not incite more violence. We did an activity in which we were split into groups and given a story and we had to pitch them to our journalist who played the part of the newspaper editor. He told us that some of our stories were doomed from the start, as they were not "sexy" enough for the news, which really upset some of the groups. He told us about how the media can be unfair, as editors often select stories that will strike an emotion in the audience, no matter whether or not the story paints the full picture of what is going on in the area. He told us that the Israel we are seeing right now is very different from the Israel we see in the media. After the presentation we sang "yom huledet sameach" to Aleeza and ate cake, and then hung out and played cards until dinner. We ended with a movement-filled Maagal Lila led by the JCs!

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