From the trip leaders, Matt and Melissa:
We woke up Friday morning excited to explore the rich history of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Visiting the Kotel (Western Wall) was a highlight for many as it was their first time seeing the holiest site in Judaism. Many participants were overcome with emotion and eager to place their notes in the wall. We continued to Mahane Yehuda (marketplace) where we were able to witness everyone preparing for Shabbat as well as purchasing popular Israeli foods, including delicious Babka from Marzapan. As we arrived back to our hotel, we welcomed in Shabbat as a community, holding our own Kabbalat Shabbat service and playing common Israeli games. We enjoyed a true Shabbat experience, relaxing and getting refreshed for our days ahead. The participants also were given the opportunity to reflect on their Jewish values as we engaged in a meaningful discussion.
Sunday was an impactful day as we spent the morning and afternoon at Har Herzl (Israel’s version of Arlington National Cemetery) and Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum). We visited graves of lone soldiers and heard the personal stories of our Israeli Soldiers, which for some, was their first time speaking about their time in the IDF. Even though the mood was sad, it was still great to learn about how far the Jewish people have come in 70 years. We then drove south, where we had the opportunity to ride camels, eat a traditional Bedouin meal and sleep in a Bedouin tent. Upon waking up from the Bedouin village, we traveled to Ein Ovdat where we enjoyed magnificent views and had powerful discussions. We are looking forward to seeing the Israeli sunrise atop Masada.
From participant Amanda K, age 21, Boca Raton, FL:
Birthright has been an absolutely amazing eye-opening experience. From riding camels in the Negev desert, to hearing personal experiences from our new Israeli friends, to being challenged in a variety of workshops about Judaism, I could not imagine a more fulfilling trip. Even though I am not from Cleveland, I have been able to connect with many interesting people with varying backgrounds, experiences and opinions. I look forward to taking what I’ve learned on Birthright and applying it to my life back in the US. I already can’t wait to come back to Israel soon!
From participant Joseph R, age 23, Orange Village, OH:
Yesterday was June 26th, the day I turned 23 years young. It was an absolute pleasure to spend my birthday in this beautiful country. Although it was a somber day since we spent the morning at Har Herzl and Yad Vashem, these places both really hit home for me. At Har Herzl, many of our IDF soldiers shared their personal stories, and travesties that they had to overcome. This was emotional for us as the Israelis are our age. Many graves that we visited were of soldiers who were 19-23 years old, which hurts, because they had so much life to live.
Yad Vashem really impacted me, I shed tears but realized not to be mad and to learn from the history. I am saying this not only so something so catastrophic would never happen again, but also because my grandparents survived the Holocaust. Seeing my name on the wall really made me lose it emotionally. The somber mood turned completely turned upside down when we arrived at the Bedouin tents. I was able to ride a camel with an IDF soldier and eat a delicious traditional Bedouin meal. Overall, the day was the best birthday I have ever had and I would like to thank the Birthright sponsors for making this possible.