The Golan Heights, Tzvat, and a Night out in Tel Aviv

Monday and Tuesday

Monday January 16th, 2012

I woke up at the hotel at the Sea of Galilee following the awesome activities we did with the Israelis where we got to talk about their roles in the military.  It was breakfast time and I had my usual Israeli breakfast of coco puffs with milk.  Following my quick bowl of cereal, I took my water bottle, filled it up, get onto the bus and maneuvered my way back to my seat.

The adventure of the day was about the Golan Heights, which I honestly hadn’t thought much about.  Media over the last five or so years has spent far less time focusing on the Golan Heights and far more on the West Bank.

The first question you have to ask yourself is why are the Golan Heights important to Israel?  Part of it is pride.  Israeli soldiers were lost taking the Golan Heights from Syria.  Another part of this has to do with the one of the world’s most important and scarce resources, water.

To look at the Golan Heights, we take a short hike, but as usual for the trip it is cold.  We are all dreading one major thing, saying goodbye to the Israelis.  After hiking and lunch, we learn it is time to say goodbye to our new Israeli friends as our bus driver takes us to a spot near a soccer field to sit.

We talk about how we didn’t know what it would be like to have all of these random Israelis join with us and talk about worries that they’d ruin the chemistry of the group.  We spend at least half an hour talking and thanking each other, take a nice group picture and finally get back on the bus to drive to the bus stop that we will be dropping the Israelis off at.  That was pretty tough on all of us, but we luckily got to see them all again, but I’ll explain that later.

From here, it was getting kind of late and time to head back to the hotel.  We race back and have dinner.  It’s kind of a weird dinner for all of us.  We sit there and I think I can speak for the whole group by saying that we missed the Israelis.  After dinner and a drink, it is time for a quick shower and bed for me.  I got to sleep pretty early every night in Israel.



Tuesday January 16th, 2012

Tuesday started off with the same breakfast as always.  I was in a bit of a rush, because I woke up later than I had intended and had to push all my stuff into my bag quickly.  I put plenty of 3% milk (yeah, don’t know why 3%, but that’s what they had) in my cereal, filled my water bottle, and brought my bags to the bus and took my usual spot in the back.

With everything on the bus, we were ready and started heading towards Tzfat.  The best thing I can do to explain Tzfat is to say it is this bizarre town with a huge population of Kabalistic Jews.

The streets of Tzfat were very narrow, but that didn’t seem to phase Yoav, but nothing did.  Narrow streets and rain freak me out, but don’t bother Yoav.  He parked the bus and we all got off to go meet with a local artist who I found to be quite interesting.

The artist we met was named Avram.  Avram was a gangly skinny bearded man who spoke English with a mid-western sound to it with a side of sounding completely stoned.  He went through a phase in his twenties where he was questioning his faith and starting looking into Kabalah and got hooked apparently.

Avram told us that he had take on the name Avram to replace his English name, Robert.  He talked to us about the history of his name going back of course to Abraham who was originally named Avram or Abram.

All of this was going on in Avram’s art studio where he showed us some of his works.  My favorite that he showed us was definitely one that using different color represented the blasts of a shofar.  Being a twenty-two year old who isn’t entirely sure where he’ll be living after graduation, I didn’t bother to even think of buying anything, although if I ever go back, I will certainly considering buying something.

After finishing in Avram’s studio, we walked under an overhang and consider the merits of what he had said before we continued.  We started to walk the streets of Tzfat, which were thin, but beautiful and ancient.  Immediately in front of the overhang was a beautiful marble floor.

After a little walking around, we stopped so Nadav could show us one of the synagogues.  He pointed out the most famous one in Tzfat, but it was far too busy, so we went to another one.

The one we entered was a Sephardic synagogue, so the sanctuary looked far different from any one I’d ever seen.  One of the walls was lined with ancient books.  This was the kind of synagogue I wish I could have gone to.  It was beautiful in a very simple way.  We all gave a couple shekels to thank the man there for allowing us to come inside.

After all of that, it was the time all of us (well most of the others, I didn’t care about shopping there to much) were waiting for.  We were given a good bit of time to walk around an area of shops in a covered area.  I walk around with a few others, going from shop to shop, looking at art and jewelry.  It isn’t that it isn’t pretty, but I have very simple taste for these kinds of things.

In-between two shops, I see a cat that follows me from between a couple stores and listens when I tell it to follow me.  One of the shop owners sees it come in and puts some food into a small bowl on the ground.  He tells us about his travels to America and how he is glad we came to his shop.  I think we were thankful he didn’t say something like “SPECIAL TAGLIT DISCOUNT”.  It was funny, he offered us all some pizza.

After the girls bought some stuff, I ventured down the street so they could use the bathroom.  I went and bought a cup of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  Fresh juice is something I loved about all of these little markets and for the price of 5 shekels, it was pretty hard to beat.  The girls were back quickly, since a guy was trying to charge them for use of the bathroom.  Before long, it was time to go as we loaded onto the bus and started to head for Tzippori for lunch before another hike.

After a fairly short bus ride, we arrived at Tzippori where it was pretty cold.  We were lucky and since we got there first, we got the tables before the other birthright group could and ate lunch.  We had sandwiches at picnic tables, which were surrounded by; you guessed it, more cats.  These kittens were adorable and I think someone gave them some tomatoes.

It was finally time to go for a hike as we headed out.  We looked at an area that used to be a temple.  It showed the interesting conflict between the Jews and Romans in the area.  The Jews wanted to be able to practice their religion, but were forced to make changes to fit in with Roman tradition.

The first part of the actual hike wasn’t too bad, but before long, our shoes were covered in mud.  There were beautiful streams, an old Roman theater and remnants of where some of the Jews prayed, a replica of part of the temple in Jerusalem.

We stopped in a really tall building and talked for a while about the reform movement in Judaism and what Judaism meant to us.  I thought about my grandparents, camp, NFTY, my bar mitzvah, and to a lesser extent my confirmation.

More muddy hiking, the bathroom and then it was time to start the long drive to Tel Aviv.  I think all of us, slept at least a little bit on the bus ride to Tel Aviv.

When we got to Tel Aviv, I think we were all excited and jumped off the bus quickly and unloaded.  For this hotel, we got to pick our roommates, so I roomed with Eric and Mark.  We had a little bit of time to get ready, then eat dinner, and finally head out on the town.  I felt gross after all of the hiking, so I took a shower pretty much right away and before long it was dinnertime.  We all headed downstairs for dinner, but our minds were on the night ahead of us, our big night out.

After dinner, we had a ton of time to get ready so after spending five minutes, I chilled in the hallway and waited.  The girls spent a good bit of time getting ready and looked awesome and before long it was time to get on the bus.

We dropped off at the point we would meet up as a big group later and from there headed out.  After spending half an hour walking aimlessly, me, Emily, Taylor, and Hillary finally settled on a nice bar where we all got drinks and a little something to nibble on.  I got really spicy French fries that were incredibly tasty.  We finished our drinks and started trying to find out where everyone else was headed.

We met up with some of the others who had met up with the Israelis (see, they are back) and started leading us to a club.  Having no idea where we were headed, we waited outside a club for about five minutes before we were let in.

Just like in any movie you can imagine about some trip to Europe or whatever, we are in his awesome club, dancing like nobody is watching (thank god, I have no rhythm).  I notice a couple of couples that made me think that I was at Pantheon, which was awfully odd.

A little before the end of the night, I decided I wanted a drink so I order a vodka Redbull and a guy at the bar starts talking to me.  I drink it quickly and try to order a tab and the guy next to me has apparently ordered me a refill which I thank him for, take a shot with another person from my trip, sign my check and head back to the dance floor.  Never had a guy try and hit on me at a bar like that, but it was entertaining.

After finishing my second vodka red bull, it was time to head out.  I walked outside of the club, because frankly it was too hot.  I waited for some of the others and started heading back to the meeting spot feeling pretty good.  The bus appears and we say a final goodbye for real this time to the Israelis.

Back at the hotel I am exhausted and fall asleep pretty quickly, the end of a pretty good night out in Tel Aviv.

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