For the last week and a half of December, and the first few days of January, I had the amazing privilege of traveling this incredible country with my parents. For the holiday of Chanukah, the schools in Israel have a break. I took one day off of school at the beginning of the break to spend as much time as possible with my parents. On December 21, they landed in Tel Aviv very early in the morning, so I went to school and planned to meet them there once they actually had a chance to sleep. After I left school, I traveled to Tel Aviv, and got to Abraham Hostel, where they stayed, at the perfect time. As I called the elevator, the elevator doors opened to reveal my parents, surprised I had made it Tel Aviv earlier than anticipated! We went out for “breakfast” and then walked around the city for awhile, catching up on life. We stayed one more night at the hostel, and in the morning, made the trek south.
The drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat is 3 hours and 45 minutes. We made a few pit-stops along the way to take pictures at various overlooks through the Negev, Israel’s desert. We got to Kibbutz Ketura, our home for the next few days, and decided to go to Kibbutz Yotvata, a famous dairy farm for dinner and ice cream. It was a nice way to start our journey through the Holy Land. The next day was spent in the city of Eilat, where we went to Coral World, an aquarium with an underwater observatory. We got there just in time to see the shark feeding, and then we continued to explore the different parts of the aquarium. It was amazing to go into their underwater area and see the actual reefs and fish of the Red Sea. After the aquarium, we continued back into the main part of town to try to find lunch. What we didn’t realize, was that it was already 2 pm on a Friday, so many places were shutting down. We found a pizza place that was still open, but they spoke very limited English, so I was very happy that I was able to make our order completely in Hebrew! We returned back to the kibbutz to rest for awhile, and then joined them for Shabbat services. One thing that I love about Judaism, is that wherever you are in the world, you can always recognize the prayers, because they will always be in Hebrew! The services ended with a communal dinner in the dining hall. We sat with a family of Russian immigrants who have lived on the kibbutz for many years.
The next day was an incredibly beautiful, but slightly stressful day. Saturday was the day we went to Petra, in Jordan. We got to the border around 7:45 am, and had to wait for it to open at 8:00. We walked up to the Israeli passport control, and of course, I had an issue. Unfortunately, sometimes the Consulates and Embassies do not communicate very well with the Ministry of Interior, so when I arrived to Israel back in August, even though my Visa is good until July 2017, the blue card that everyone gets upon entering Israel said I only had until September 2016. The Israeli passport control said that I should be fine, and eventually let me through. We continued on the 2 1/2 hour drive to the gorgeous Petra. Words truly cannot express the natural beauty of the place, and there is no doubt in my mind that it deserves its place on the Seven Wonders of the World list. In total, Petra is about a 4 km walk downhill from the start to the end. The entrance to the city was created from an earthquake that caused a mountain to separate. For about 2 km, you are walking along the actual fault line, between the two sides of the separated mountain. At the end of that part of the walk, the mountain opens to the gorgeous Treasury building. It is incredible, the amount of work it must have taken to carve that building from the face of a mountain. The “ladder” steps they carved on the side in order to carve the very top were still visible today. With every step we took, there was more to explore and more to see. We continued down to the bottom where we were able to see the Royal Tombs. Our tour guide then gave us about an hour of “free time” to make it back to the top, where we would meet. My parents and I decided to walk the 4 km back up, but when we turned around to start our hike, we could see the clouds rolling in from the top of the mountains. The clouds got thicker and thicker as we ascended, and it felt almost like being in the scene of a horror film. By the time we made it back to the top, we were fully immersed in a cloud, and pretty thoroughly soaked. Our tour then took us to a restaurant for lunch that was supposed to have incredible food and a view. While the food absolutely lived up to expectations, we couldn’t see out to the window because the clouds were so thick! At 4 pm, we started our drive back to the border, but the clouds hadn’t lifted at all. We had to drive extremely slow. The only way we stayed on the road was with the driver watching for the left line of the lane and our tour guide watching the right line of the lane, to make sure we didn’t fall off of a cliff. Our biggest worry was that we wouldn’t make it back to the border before it closed at 8:00 that evening. Once we got out of the mountains, we also made it out of the clouds, and our driver did everything he could to get us back on time. We came rushing into the border parking lot at 7:55, and we were the last group they allowed to cross back into Israel! Unfortunately, I came across the same issue with my blue card coming back into the country. The passport control did not take away my Visa, but reissued my blue card with only a month on it, and now I have to go to the Ministry of Interior to get it fixed. Overall, it was an incredible day!
Day 4 was spent making the drive back north, but this time we made a stop, about halfway, in Mitzpe Ramon, a huge crater in the center of the Negev. I remember repelling at the crater when I was in Israel in high school. We spent the night in a not so nice hostel, but it was only for one night! The next day was spent exploring the crater and with me climbing as much as I could. I found a set of stairs at one point that led down to a ledge where I found two ibeks (the Israeli “deer”) fighting. I spent a lot of time taking pictures, until my mom starting yelling for me to make sure I was ok. We also took time to go into the museum at the visitor’s center, which I had never been in before. The first half of the museum spoke about Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut that was aboard the Columbia Spacecraft when it crashed in 2003. I remember hearing the news of Ilan Ramon, and being excited to have an Israeli going to space with NASA, and then the sadness of hearing of the Columbia’s fate.
Our journey then continued north, to Jerusalem, where we stayed for 5 days. We did all of the typical “Jerusalem” things, including the shuk, Ben Yehuda street, and the Old City. Our first night, I took my parents to an amazing restaurant, Azura (highly recommend that everyone goes there!) We then walked around Machane Yehuda, the shuk or open air market, and we found a giant menorah that was about to be lit. While standing around waiting, I saw a friend I had met on the Leadership summit back in November! It was wonderful to be able to catch-up! We returned to the hostel for what we thought would be a restful night. Whenever I go on vacation with my parents, I have to were earplugs to sleep, because both of my parents snore. So, this first night in the hostel, I am sleeping peacefully on the top bunk, above my mom, when all of a sudden, I start to get kicked awake. I take out an earplug and ask my mom what is going on, to which she asked me if the fire alarm was going off! As she woke my dad up, I jumped out of bed and opened our door, to which I immediately noticed that (1) yes, the first alarm was definitely going off, and (2) I smelled smoke, and we needed to get out of the building. Now, our room was right between to fire doors, which is why the alarm was not loud enough to wake my dad or I up, but that also meant we had a staircase directly outside of our door. We proceeded to the exit, which put us on the rooftop of the building next door. My dad found a second set of stairs that took us down to the road. We all congregated right outside the front doors, where we were notified that the dumpster right outside of the building had been lit on fire and the smoke made its way inside. So, while it was good that we woke up, there was never any actual danger to anyone staying at the hostel. My view of the whole thing? Jerusalem really wanted to welcome my parents and I and make sure we were celebrating the Festival of Lights as best we could!
The next day was forecasted to have lots of rain start midday. We decided to start at Mount Herzl, the military cemetery. It was my dad’s first time going, and my first time since Shimon Perez’s funeral. It was truly wonderful to be able to be able to attend such an amazing human’s funeral, and then to return with my parents to see his final resting place. Our day continued at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and then we went, of all places, to the hospital. Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, is an amazing hospital in the outskirts of Jerusalem, and they have a synagogue inside with 12 amazing handmade stained glass windows made by Marc Chagall. Each window depicts one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and are truly a work of art. That evening, we could not find a restaurant that was both open, and close (because of the rain), so we went to a grocery store to pick up some food, and I cooked my first “Israeli” dinner for my parents of kafta kebabs, spiced meat sausages, and bourekas, savory cheese filled pastries. The next few days were spent touring the Old City and meeting up with friends. Our last night in Jerusalem, we went to Ma’ale Adumim to celebrate Chanukah with some amazing friends. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner followed by an even better dessert of homemade sfinge, a type of deep fried donut. It was amazing to be able to catch up with these friends and to spend time with their two wonderfully energetic kids!
Friday morning, we headed back to Machane Yehuda to buy some food for Shabbat dinner before heading further north, to Migdal HaEmek, where I am living. We took the bus up to the “Capital of the North,” Afula, where we rented a car so we could travel easier while up here. For dinner that night, I had invited one of the teaching fellows from Nazareth Ilit over (everyone else was busy), and, of course, I made shakshuka. I enjoyed being able to show my parents my apartment and introduce them to at least one of the people I have been spending my year with. The next day I took my parents to the Arab city of Nazareth, to show them the best hummus around, and to go to the Church of Annunciation. The church is said to be built on the site of Mary’s childhood home, and has mosaic depictions of Mary and baby Jesus that have been donated from many countries around the world. We ended the day with dinner at our family’s house in Haifa. Last time I was there, I was told that upon returning, I would have to speak in only Hebrew. I was pretty proud that, while I was not speaking all Hebrew, I was able to speak about 50/50 English and Hebrew! That night was New Years Eve, so my parents had a quiet night at their hotel, while I went to a friends house to celebrate! The next day was spent at Rosh Hanikra, and area right on the coastal border between Israel and Lebanon. They have natural made grottoes along with man made tunnels through the side of the mountain that the border sits on. The water inside the grottoes are so crystal clear blue, even with the waters being rough from recent storms. On our way back to Migdal HaEmek, we stopped in Acre, a city that sits on the northern side of the Haifa Bay, for a hummus dinner. I personally liked the Nazareth hummus more, but the shawarma in Acre was the best shawarma I have EVER eaten!
For our last day together, I took my parents to school to see what my typical day is like. They saw me take out my small groups and got to talk with my teacher about what the English program is like. After a coffee and food break at a local restaurant with an amazing friend and colleague of my mom’s, we went north again to Tsfat. We spent time exploring the small streets of the market, and saw many of the different synagogues of the area. Last time I was in Tsfat, 2 years ago, I was celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of some of the participants on my Birthright, so this time I was able to find the same rooftop, and take a picture of the incredible view. We continued to wander, and found the maker of Tsfat cheese, a family that has been making incredible cheese for 7 generations! I got some white, salty, Tsfat cheese, and some incredible blue cheese. Tsfat is filled with amazing artists, so as we were wandering back to the car, we stopped in a shop that sold Pandora-type charms, and found a pomegranate charm that both my mom and I fell in love with. We each got one, so we will now having matching charms, commemorating this amazing trip together! For our last dinner together, we went to a restaurant in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. My mom has had friends that have recommended this restaurant to her, and by all means, those recommendations were absolutely correct! By far, this was one of the best meals that I have eaten since being in Israel! The food was so fresh and tasted absolutely amazing! My parents then drove me back to my apartment, and we said our final goodbyes. While this year in its entirety is a once in a lifetime opportunity, my parents being able to come and spend two weeks with me traveling through this country I love was a memory I will keep and treasure for as long as I live.
I love you Mom and Dad! And, who knows? Maybe there will be more trips in future years ;)!