Backstage Travels

All the world's a stage…

Day 6: The second event we crashed

I’m pretty sure this is when I started sleeping through breakfast. Veggies in the morning isn’t really my thing, and I found that I got less bus-sick if I didn’t eat in the morning. That’s right…I work on the sea, and the worst motion sickness I’ve gotten is on the roads of Israel.

We first went to a cemetery near the Kinaret River. We visited some famous grave sites, and learned about the Labour Movement. Our Israeli companions gave some interesting insight to the things we were talking about.

Then we went to Tzippori. The wind was raging and the rain was stinging, but we plugged along anyway. Most of it was under a roof anyway.

We saw how ancient Jews were influenced by Roman culture in mosaics and such.

Then we went inside to what is apparently a still functioning synagog, because this happened:

Yep, we crashed another party. This time it was a Bar Mitzvah. Hilarious. For us. Probably not for the family and that embarrassed 13 year old.

We finished our tour, then took our bus to a new hostel. We had an unprecedented few hours of free time before our small Shabbat service.

Afterwards, we played a game of the Israelis’ devising. It was a memory game to see if we remembered all the places in Israel. I was our Israel. Also cheating may have ensued. Maybe.

At this point, it felt like they had been with us the entire trip, which itself felt like it was a year long already.

Also, we didn’t like this hostel. It was weird, and we had a mouse in our room.

Browndoggy seemed okay with it.



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Day 5: Shopping and Israelis!

This was the day we were told to wait for. This was shopping day…after a tour. This was Safat Day. Shopping, shopping, shop-ping!

But first a tour. I’m going to be quite honest here…I remember very little about the tour because of the frigid weather. It was rain/icing, and it was not one bit fun.

There were a couple of cool things I do remember about the place (besides the shopping).

Everything has blue painted on it somewhere.


The idea is that bad spirits coming to Earth will believe they are still in the sky, and pass on through.

There was also this place:

This alley is said to be part of the most direct route to Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. So, the messiah would have to pass though here. There was a woman several years back (but less than 10, so it’s not just a legend) that outlived her entire family. She would come to this spot with tea, coffee and cookies. When asked what she was doing, she said she was waiting for the messiah, and if he came by she didn’t want to miss him. When asked about her cookies, she said that he might be hungry. When asked why she had tea and coffee, she would say that she didn’t know which he would prefer. When she passed away, they put up a sign with her story.


The best part was this little boy who walked passed us as we were hearing one of these stories. It had been hailing and flurrying all morning, but not much. It was just cold. This boy had gathered all the snow and ice he could find on his route to school, and called to our group. “Look!” he said. We all congratulated him on his golf ball sized snow ball. Then he said “I can throw?” Of course we all said “Sure!” because who’s going to deny a child of maybe the only snowball throwing he’ll ever have? It hit out Kesher coordinator, and she wasn’t happy, but it was pretty much the highlight of the day.

While shopping, I bought…way too much. Two pieces of art featuring the Hebrew word for “life” and a silver magendavid inlaid with eilat, which is the national stone of Israel, and only found in the Negev Desert.

After this, we met up with our Israeli friends for lunch. The night before, we had made the facebook pages for them, and at this point, we were presenting them to our new friends. Luckily, they all loved the pages we made, even though the one I helped make was pretty off.

We were going to go the the Golan Heights, which I hear are pretty amazing, but apparently the wind would have blown us off the mountain or something, so we just watched a movie about them. It was a multi-dimentional movie with water for rain and fans for the breeze and everything. I sat by Miri, one of our new friends, and she and I and Brian made fun of it hardcore.

We immediately regretted the making fun of, and most of us probably wished we could have watched a video for the next part as well, but then we went to a nature preserve for Griffon vultures. It was pretty cool, and we even saw some! (I don’t have a very good camera, though, so I just enjoyed the moment.)

Afterwards, we headed to a new hostel. We had a presentation on Israeli cinema, which was pretty cool, and probably would have been way cooler had it not been at about 9 pm.

After that, we played a round of the paper telephone game, but there were far too many people, and it took far too long.

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Israel Day 4: Longest day of our lives

We woke up…at four thirty in the morning. I cannot emphasize how four-thirty in the morning we woke up…

So we got dressed in our tent, where it was warm, and then had biscuits (kinda) and tea outside, where it was cold. First breakfast. Then the bus. Everyone was falling asleep because it was like 5 am by then.

Then we get to Masada. This is the mountain we are supposed to climb to see the sunset. (I find out later that it’s not really a mountain, and I was lame for being tired after climbing it.) We are lead to a path and then told to walk.

Whatever. I walk every day. Slight incline? Psh…I’ll walk the crap out of this path. I’ll…*pant*…make it…*pant pant* …how are…*pant*…you people…*wheeze*…still talking to each other? *coughsplutterpant*

I need to get in shape. Like woah.

But I make it. And I’m not the last one. Not that that’s a bad thing, to be last…ugh, anyway. Most of us, exhausted and hot after the climb, forget that it’s about 37 Fahrenheit outside, and strip off all the nice fluffy jackets we’ve now sweated through…just to remember and hastily put all those layers back on again.

The sun is starting to make an appearance, and we can’t be late! We go to the lookout point, look towards Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the mountains, and wait. And wait. Shutters click and there are sighs of disappointment as most of us realize that our cameras are not doing a very good job capturing what our artistic eyes all want to be able to capture. Two of our companions, however have excellent cameras. They are now assigned to take pictures for everyone, whether they like it or not. “These better be on Facebook [for me to steal]!”

The sun winds up being later than the forecast, which puts our tour behind. But just look at these shots (that I took myself!):

Then we toured around the place. The history’s pretty cool; it was a massive palace that was the size of a small city, and then it was taken over by Zionists, who were a Jewish dead end, because then they all killed themselves in an act of defiance.
…Yeah, you should probably just read the Wiki article about it…
This paint is original.
The bath house had double floors and walls to allow the hot air to be cycled throughout the building itself. The ceiling was also domed, so that any collecting condensation would slide down instead of drip on the occupants.
Under the line is original, and over the line has been restored.
Now this was a tiny model of the place that showed how the aqueduct system was used here to make this palace in the desert livable for many years:
We also went to the temple on Masada. It is one of the oldest temples (if not the oldest) still in existence.
It’s also a fully functional temple, with a Torah and everything. A few years ago, people brought up a Torah to put back in the temple. It’s behind this door.
Now, the night before, I, along with two other outgoing people, was asked to read a monologue in front of everyone at a specific time during this tour. Mine was at the temple.
I was a bloodthirsty Zionist, as you can tell.
This was a swimming pool.
There was enough water collected by those aqueducts that there was a fully functional and fairly large pool. On a mountain. In the desert.
Then we yelled into this valley.
The echo effect was incredible.
Back down the mountain. But not the path we came up, oh no. This time, we took:
That path was pretty wicked. My legs were not happy after that walk. Oh, and it started to rain. We were supposed to do another hike, but apparently it go rained out and flooded. This started our streak of “more luck than brains.”
Second breakfast, and then we were off to the Dead Sea for some hardcore floating. I’m not going to lie, I was not looking forward to swimming in the Sea. The temperatures had stayed around single digits Celsius, and I really don’t like being cold…
Our choice for the Dead Sea part of the trip was to go to a free part of the beach where you had to buy packets of the mud, or go to a paid part of the beach, where you didn’t have to pay for the mud, and there was a hot spring fed by the Dead Sea itself. Oh, and the pay one was free as long as we watched a commercial for Ahava Dead Sea products. Um, duh. We watched the (really strange and oddly sexual) commercial, and then we were let loose in the store. At that point, I still only had a very primitive knowledge of the dollar to shekel exchange ratio, but I still knew that I totally did not want to spend that much money for salty face cream. (I demean it because I actually wanted to get some, but I can’t afford to keep up the regimen.)
Here’s a picture of the weird salt statue from the shop!
The sea ended up being a lot warmer than I anticipated, because the cold front had come in so suddenly, the large body of water hadn’t absorbed all that coldness yet.
Photo courtesy of Steph D
Photo courtesy of Steph D
Photo courtesy of Brian A
Photo courtesy of Brian A
That last one was homage to one of our American leaders, Rachel L. For the first few days, she kept telling us that any photos posted on social networking sites should be tagged with #gokesher, because the name of the chapter of Taglit Birthright we were traveling with was called URJ Kesher.
The sea was amazing to float in. The Sea is about 1/3 salt, which creates incredible buoyancy, something that was recreated in the hot spring. I tried to sit one the little bench in the pool, but it just floated about 6 inches above it, in a sitting position.
Then we had lunch. Yep, all that was before lunch.
Then we were back on the bus for our next place to stay. Games ensued, and Shira said that she’d never had a group that played together so much; mostly they just sleep. I think we were too tired to sleep.
We had a couple hours of free time (!) before dinner (I’ve had so much hummus by this point), and then an activity. Our Israeli companions were to join us the next day, so we were going to make something for them. We were split into groups, and given one of their names, plus three or four facts about them. Then we were supposed to draw out what we thought their FaceBook page would look like…
We got Anat, who was just getting out of the military, had majored in Jazz and Dance, and loved the opera.
We drew her in her uniform with a gun, not knowing she was an Israeli hippie with a couple braids. And we threw on a YouTube link to our bus anthem, “Shalala” by the VengaBoys. We also included some Facebook ads, like one for umbreallas with the tagline “Because you never know,” alluding to our experience with people telling us that “it never rains in the desert” while we’ve been sheltering from showers for three days.
Then I felt like I wanted to sleep forever……
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Israel Day 3: Finally Jerusalem!

Early wake up! …which was awesome with the jetlag… Oh well! Too excited! Now, I had to repack my bags. Apparently, I needed a bag with three sets of clothes, because I wasn’t getting access to my suitcase for 2 days. Fine, I can travel light.

First we have our Welcoming Ceremony, which we couldn’t do the night before because of our delayed flight. Little did we know, that this small flex in the schedule would foreshadow what was to come…*dun dun dunnn*

No. It was lovely. And our first look at Jerusalem in the daytime.

It really was breathtaking. The first moment that we were all like “Oh my G-d, we’re here.”

We said the Kiddish with some grape juice, and we were off to that city below.

We entered through the Zion Gate. At first, I thought I heard “Lion’s Gate,” and I’ve been reading the Game of Thrones series, so I was like “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?” But then Shira said the name again. Anyway, look at it!

The wall is littered with bullet holes. Those bullets were taken out and melted to make this mezuzah:

We walked through the city a bit…
Then Shira told us to get in a single-file line, hold on to each other, and close our eyes. We did, and then we started walking. Shira played some music from a device. And then we were herded, still with our eyes closed, next to a fence. Then we got to open our eyes.
Our first glimpse at the Western/Wailing Wall. A wall broken and rebuilt, but still standing since the days of Old(est) Jerusalem. A wall that my ancestors have made pilgrimages to see or touch. A wall that’s been touched so many times by people of faith, that it’s discolored from about man-height, down.
And I didn’t feel anything. Well, not at first.
But then there was something. I knew I felt something…I just couldn’t pinpoint what it was… And that was the start of the thoughts I struggled with for the whole trip.
So we went down to the Wall.
Men and women were divided by this fence:
There were so many different kinds of people here: Tourists, ultra-religious, school kids…you name it.
They say that the Wall has no mortar. It’s being held together by people’s prayers. Figuratively and literally.
I put a prayer in, too!
There it is!
Then we went to The Jerusalem Archeological Park:
We talked about ate wafers. And talked about how old cities are like them, I guess. How there are layers upon layers of the same city, from different times. WAFERS!
We also learned a lot of history. Some of which I remember! Here are more pictures!
Actually, we used the wafer metaphor quite a lot. And you can see it in the Wall. The bottom stones are very large (and smooth, from thousands of years of people touching it), the middle ones are slightly smaller, due to being taken from the rubble of destroyed larger ones, and the top ones are smallest for that same reason.
Now there was one thing that kept distracting us for all our learning and touring and such… Cats. There were so many cats. Cutest vermin I’ve ever seen. I didn’t take any pictures of these cuties, but there are so many, there’s a Tumblr about them. Yes. Click it.
Then it was back in the bus. Some of us took the remaining paper from the Western Wall prayers (unused, we didn’t take anyone’s prayers!) and used it for a game. This game was popular for the whole trip 🙂
We must have spent too much time in Jerusalem (probably because of the cats), because we were late for our 90 second ride on our camels. Thankfully, we got there in time.
These images courtesy of Rachel L., on Adam S.’s camera 🙂
Then it started to rain. In the desert. It never rains in the desert…
Then we met with one of the men who runs the “traditional” Bedouin tent. We had a lovely dinner that I’m pretty sure included camel meat. Whatever, it was delicious.
Then there was a bonfire and bonding!
And apparently, (weird-tasting) marshmallows aren’t the only thing Israelis roast on a fire. There were potatoes for us as well. Only on potato was made though.
Photo courtesy of Adam S.
They enjoyed it. After an hour.
Then we went to our tent. To sleep.
Image courtesy of  Mirav
I actually had no problem with our sleeping arrangements. It probably helped that I was so exhausted from the day before to care where I was sleeping, as long as I had a blanket.
On of the Joshes (there were three) disagreed. The complaining, real or exaggerated, was one of the most entertaining moments on the whole trip. Things like pointing out that you could see dirt under the blankets on the floor (which were screwed in to the hard ground, by the way), mentioning that he has every right to exterminate bugs in his house, but what will the bugs to to him now that he’s sleeping in theirs, and our favorite: “I make too much money to have to sleep in a tent.”
I still fell dead asleep…
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Israel Day 2: Arrival in the Jewish State

I think I saw about 2 hours of sun on the whole trip over to Israel. When we landed, it was about 6 pm because of the delay in our flight. We were all so exhausted from the travel, and we pretty much went straight to the hostel.

I’ll admit that I didn’t take very many pictures that day. I’m not sure that anyone did. None of us knew each other that well yet, and as I said, we were all so tired.

On the bus there, we met our tour guide, Shira, and our military escort, Ziv. Both are pretty badass people. While we were driving toward the hostel, Shira told us a story about how we should view Israel.

She said that a few years back there were wildfires in Israel. People were being evacuated from their homes, and she was eventually evacuated from her kibbutz. She watched the news everyday, like most people did, and one day she recognized where the camera crew was: her kibbutz. Everything on camera was razed. It panned over wasted and burnt landscape. She said that she was in shock, but eventually came to terms with the fact that she had no house, nothing. She was safe, and could buy new clothes. The news continued to show the same footage over and over, and Shira saw something on the edge of the screen, right before it cut back to the newscasters…a leaf! A green leaf! Why won’t they show that, she wondered, why won’t they show the green? She kept watching, hoping they’d pan the camera just a little bit further, so she could see the green.
Finally, the fires were contained and the people were allowed back to their villages. When Shira got to hers, she saw that only 10% of the village had burned. Her house was fine. Most of the houses were. She saw that the “green” was a lot more than the burned wasteland.

This is how we were supposed to look at Israel. Not as the wasteland the TV shows, with the wars and fighting and such, but what else it is. Tel Aviv has thriving technology and businesses. Jerusalem has the three major religions living there in…well, they’re cordial, if not exactly bosom buddies. The landscape is beautiful. And the cats! Holy goodness, the Israeli cats…

So, we get to the hostel. Most of us do not know a word of Hebrew save “Shalom” at this point (exaggeration…but only just), and we don’t know where to go. We were pointed in a direction on an elevator somewhere, but when we got to the approximate location of the finger-pointing, we were met with a large crowd.

And that’s how we crashed the wedding.

Well, the reception, really. We turned back, only to have Ziv (resident co-badass) walk us right through to the elevator, a mere 2 meters from where we ran in to all those people.

We all got assigned rooms and settled in and then…jetlag set in. For me at least. I slept an hour, and then was up till about 4am local time.

Browndoggy slept though…


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ISRAEL: the beginning…

So, I’ve been back for a while, but the holidays and I have to go back to work sooner than I thought. I’ve been busy.

Lets start with Day 1, and I’ll post about the days. Okay, here goes.

The flight was leaving from Philly, and that’s about a three hour drive from where I live. As much as my fiance loves me, and would have driven me, he totally didn’t want to do it, and the weather was supposed to be bad anyway. So I took the train. It started to…not exactly snow? But it was cold and there was tiny ice falling from the sky.

Fastforward though train ride…remember I forgot all my make up, but meh; I was going to be in the desert for 10 days…cold transfers in stations that you have to stand outside for, what?….arrive at the airport.

Mkay, so I thought I would be the only one wicked early at like 2, when everyone was supposed to meet up at 5 for our flight at 9. I was not the earliest one. I met a few of the people, and at first it felt like our Jewishness was going to be the only thing that all 40 of us would have in common…I can be a little awkward at making friends. Quickly, and fortunately, that turned out to be a false assumption. As 5 o’clock drew nearer, more people flooded into our area, and we had to move. Conversations got detailed really, really quickly, but in all positive ways, I think.

Unfortunately, some people on our trip just didn’t make it to the airport. Here’s why:

Photos courtesy of Mirav Kesher. Not her real. But that’s her facebook name, so it’s all good.

Most of us were there, though, and got ready to go!


Obligatory shot of necessary travel documents. Yep, the nametag was necessary…for about two days. I don’t think there are actually any pictures of us wearing them. There’s not one I’ve found of me. I don’t think there are any pictures of the ice breakers, either. Oh, the icebreakers…

Of course, with the weather we were delayed. But we didn’t know how much we would be delayed…our 9:40 flight didn’t leave till about midnight. Mirav (Jenna), who I was sitting with, and I joked that she’d have her degree and I’d be married by the time we left. It was okay though, because Avi was our rabbinical representative and he was sitting right in front of us; he could perform the wedding….haha.

Anyway. Then we were on our way. Now, I have this stuffed dog that I’ve taken everywhere. I’ve had him since I was 1 year old. My mother tried to get me to retire him before college.


And now I’m 25, and he went to Israel with me!!

IMG_0574While I didn’t take him to literally everywhere we went (because one morning we woke up at 4:30 am to climb a mountain. FOUR-THIRTY to CLIMB a MOUNTAIN…ahem. That’s another post), he was at every hostel…and tent.

Commence twelve hour plane ride…

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