2019 Friendship Circle Inclusion Birthright Trip Blog

Mitzvah Day!

Yesterday, we had a Mitzvah Day! We started the day off at a food pantry called Pantry Packers where we packed dry goods into sealed and ready-to-use bags. Pantry Packers provides food to over 8,500 families around Israel and together we packed over 500 bags of dry goods for them.

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Next, we went to a large national park called Neot Kdumim where we planted oak trees (or alonim). There, we also learned about the park and how they are preserving ancient olive trees from around the country in a single orchard and planting trees to rejuvenate the landscape. They also had an ancient olive press where we ground hyssop (used in zatar) and ate it with pita and olive oil from the orchard. 

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Afterwards, we went to an art studio and gallery called Susan’s House, which employees at-risk youth, teaching them a skill and giving them an opportunity to sell their art. There, we made our own ceramic hamsas and bought jewelry, ceramics, and glassworks from the gallery to support the artists. 

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After dinner, we had our annual FC Birthright Talent Show! The acts we amazing: funny, beautiful, cheerful, and a great summary of our trip together. We shared inside jokes, sang our hearts out, and danced like the Dancing Queens we are. It was a great night.

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A few days of catch-up

Sorry for the delay in writing recently! I haven’t been feeling well, but I am on the mend. 

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After a lovely and relaxing Shabbat at our hotel, we hit the town in Tel Aviv/Jaffa! We started the day off in the beautiful old port of Jaffa. There, we toured the narrow, stone-laden alleyways decorated with street art from local artists. In Jaffa, the city gives artists studio and shop space in exchange for public art installations.

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Afterwards, we walked along the old port - one of the oldest in Israel – which is now a boardwalk on the Mediterranean.

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We walked all the way to lunch at Dr. Shakshuka – one of the most famous and touristy restaurants in Israel. We ate delicious shakshuka, salad, hummus, steak and fries at outdoor picnic tables in the shade. We even got to meet Dr. Shakshuka himself! 

In the afternoon, we went into Tel Aviv where we toured the Carmel Market and did some shopping.

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After returning to the hotel for dinner, we had a session on Israeli history through dance. It was a lot of fun! We did everything to the Hora to Mayim Mayim to a modern dance created by our instructor.

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The next day we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, Museum, and Education Center. We spent a lot of time processing together and giving each space to do so separately. The experience was, for most, very heavy and very intense. I have been to Yad Vashem several times, so I had a different perspective and was able to focus on the uniqueness of the experience with this particular group.

The rest of the day was more relaxing and fun! After Yad Vashem, we had lunch at the Shalva Center, a center that provides social, recreational, and therapeutic services and opportunities for people with special needs of all ages. There, we got to watch a video of a Shalva band performing at this past year’s Eurovision. Afterwards, we went to the Jerusalem Aquarium and had a fun, relaxing time playing with the fishes. Next we visited Ben Yehuda Street and went shopping in groups.

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At the end of the day, we discussed our experience of the day and continued to process our experiences at Yad Vashem. I think it was a healing and supportive experience for everyone. 

Today, though I stayed behind to recover from my illness, the rest of the group headed southeast to Masada and the Dead Sea. Because it was an extremely hot day, the group took the cable car up to Masada where they learned about the history of the ruin on the mountain. Next, they went down to the Dead Sea where they floated in the salt sea and covered themselves in the nutrient-rich mud. They topped the day off with a camel ride at a Bedouin settlement in the Negev Desert.

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After a long, hot day, we all had the chance to relax and go to bed early.

Holy Cities

 Today was our last day in the North. After breakfast, we headed to the city of Tzfat or Safed – one of the holy cities of Israel. Our first stop in Tzfat was a citadel overlooking a valley. From there we descended into an old cistern that is now a cave filled with graffiti. There we lit tea candles and sang a song that echoed throughout in this really beautiful way as our tour guide, Chen, played her guitar. It really brought the spirit – or ruach – with us into Tzfat. 

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I love Tzfat. The city sits upon a high mountain overlooking a valley and another mountain range.

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It has ancient alleyways made of smooth stone and houses and shops piled on top of each other after centuries of use. Tzfat is not only a holy city, but also a city of art. Beautiful galleries and artists selling their wares on the streets and in booths. We had the opportunity to meet a local artist named David Friedman. He is originally from the States but has been living in Tzfat for over 40 years. He paints these very psychedelic representations of Kabbalistic ideas and teachings. He taught us about numerology – or gematria– by using the paintings he has made. He showed us how the numbers symbolize Jewish values and teachings in a really abstract and interesting way using everything from color theory to geometry to the Hebrew aleph-bet.

After visiting the artist we went to one of the oldest synagogues in Tzfat, where Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition settled and established their community. Though small, the synagogue is beautiful decorated with golden ornaments and a painted wooden bima. The synagogue suffered shrapnel damage from the War of Independence, but the damage is now celebrated as a symbol of survival.

After such a spiritual experience, we had the opportunity to do some touristy shopping to lighten the mood. We bought trinkets and gifts and jewelry from a street vendor, as well passion fruit juice and iced coffee. 

Finally, it was time to leave Tzfat. We headed to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee – or Kineret - one of the other Holy Cities in Israel. From there, we got on a boat and sailed around the Kineret while dancing our hearts out to Pharrell Williams, Earth Wind & Fire, and Queen. It was a great time, and I got to see so many of my new friends being vulnerable and showing off their moves.

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After a long day, we gathered on the bus and took a three-hour ride to Jerusalem where we will be staying for most of the rest of the trip. Tonight, we prepared to meet the Israeli soldiers who will be accompanying us for the next few days so we can learn more about Israeli culture. Can’t wait to meet them tomorrow!

 

A Trek Through the North

 

Today we spent the whole day in the North of Israel. We started in the Galil -where our kibbutz is located - and wound our way over the rolling mountains and down into the sprawling, fruitful valleys. Our driver deftly navigated the narrow, winding, and steep hills so expertly, I hardly even noticed.

Our first stop was Tel Dan, the ancient, layered hill fort once occupied by the Dan tribe (one of the 12). The site is now a beautiful hiking spot with streams of flowing, icy water coming down from the highest mountains in Israel. Because of the natural water, Tel Dan also has a dense forest of fig trees, bamboo, eucalyptus, mulberry trees, olive trees, and caper bushes. After a pleasant and shaded walk, we had the opportunity to dip our toes in a wading pool. We splashed around, cooled ourselves off, and danced to Israeli music blasting from a portable speaker. The water was cold, but I'm used to it.

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After the hike, we rode to the Golan, another region of the North. We visited Mount Bental, an awesome viewpoint from which you can see the border with Syria. Here we learned all about Israel's borders and its changes over time before and after the War of Independence, the 6-Day War, and the Yom Kippur War.

The whole North is stunning. I could have looked out the bus window at that beautiful, budding landscape for hours - and we certainly did today, as we learned about the land's history of violence, peace, ancient civilization, and modern prosperity; about the natural history of the land from its fruit trees to its migrating birds; about the economy and the culture and everything in between.

We went to the only city in the Golan, where we split into groups and had a choice of which restaurant to eat at. I chose hummus and it was the best choice. Fresh hummus with a hardboiled egg, a piece of warm pita, and a crip Coca Cola. Perfection.

After lunch, we went off-roading in Jeeps around a few Kibbutzim near the Jordan River. I’m not a fan of crazy motion like that, so I got to ride in the front with the driver, who was very sweet. At one point, he leaned over and said to me, “You are the best kind of people, very nice, very special.”

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Afterwards, we went rafting in the River Jordan. Five of us loaded onto a giant inflatable raft and headed out. They gave us kayak paddles instead of canoe paddles, so my kayaking instinct just took over (after years of kayaking with my family). I sat at the edge in the front of the raft, dangling my feet in the sweet water, and paddled the way I knew how, steering us as best I could – with some help from my friends in the back of the raft. At times we floated lazily, others we grabbed onto other rafts and made an island, and others we chatted with the Anglo-Israeli river guard named Oliver. We went over one large rapid, but the rest was pretty smooth and calm.  

After rafting, we were all pretty exhausted. We headed back to the Kibbutz for dinner and our evening activity – T-shirt making!

An artist came to show us how to make designs on our t-shirts using a textile paint spray and pebbles. It was a lot of fun, and great to see everyone’s different designs. It really brought out everyone’s personality, interests, and favorite colors.

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Tomorrow, we are saying goodbye to the North, so stay posted for our next adventure!

 

First Day in Israel!

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Today we finally made it to Israel! The 9-hour flight went surprisingly smoothly despite a mostly sleepless night for most and a very old airplane with no personalized movie viewing options. When we finally landed, the whole plane cheered and clapped, led by the FC participants who were all over the moon to have finally arrived.

Tel Aviv greeted us with the most pleasant of mornings - blue skies, a light breeze, and a warm sun to wake us up. After meeting up with our amazing tour guide, Chen, and some of our other staff, and eating a quick breakfast in the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion, we headed off on our adventure.

Our first stop - Caesarea - the ancient port city built in the Roman style by King Herod to celebrate Augustus Caesar. We wandered along the centuries-old hippodrome, city avenues, and walled ruins softened by generations of foot traffic. We took pictures by the Mediterranean sea and learned about the history of the old city while standing in its presence. We even got to go up on the stage of the Roman-style amphitheater which is still one of Israel's most famous concert venues.

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Next, we had a quick bite at a nearby food court to take a much needed respite from the sun.

After lunch, we headed north to Kfar Kedem - which means "Ancient Village." Kfar Kedem is a model village of ancient Israeli society situated in and run by the community of Hoshaya. There, we sipped tea made from local herbs, learned how to make pita from scratch (including the ancient traditions and technologies used), rode donkeys, and at homemade pita, hummus, olives, and fresh dates.

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With full bellies and new skill, we set off for our final destination - Kibbutz Farod, where we will be staying in guest houses for a few days. After settling ourselves in, we had dinner together in the food hall - or hadar ochel - and gathered to go over the next day's activities.

30 hours after arriving at JFK airport, we finally had the chance to rest and relax and sleep.

 

Hi! I'm Jess

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Hi! My name is Jess and I am the Program & Curriculum Coordinator at the Philly Friendship Circle, but for this year's Friendship Circle Birthright Trip I am going as an inclusion participant. 


I chose to go as a participant and not as staff because I have never been on Birthright before. I wanted my Birthright experience to be a special and unique one, and what better way to do that than by joining my new FC community on their trip! In addition, I am lucky enough to bring along my childhood friend, Ilana, who will be sharing this experience with me! I am so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organization and community, and to have such amazing and diverse experiences abroad.

Check out this blog and follow us on our journey through Israel!
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Philly Friendship Circle
The Friendship Circle Philadelphia Region South - A registered 501c3 organization serving Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties. 754 South 9th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147 Founded by Chabad- Lubavich