Hello from Bus 278! We arrived in Israel in the early evening on Thursday. The last few days have been full of learning, bonding, and new experiences. In the airport we were introduced to our Israeli guide, Dima. Our guide is a historian, with wonderful storytelling skills. He’s originally from the USSR but has been in Israel from a young age. Everyone loved singing the song that went along with the Word of the Day, where we learned about four words in Hebrew. As people in this group have vastly different Jewish backgrounds, Dima described our group as a Jewish traveling community. Most of the travelers rested on the bus to our first stop in Zichron Yachov. We’re appreciative to the world’s greatest security David and our bus driver, Salman, for keeping us safe.
The first full day in Israel would technically be a half day due to Shabbat. We learned four more words, bringing the total to eight: Shalom (hello, goodbye, peace), Sababa (good), Yala (let’s go), Maim (water), Boker Tov (good morning), Toda (thank you), Eifo ha sherutim? (where’s the bathroom?), ma nishmah? (how are you?). We ventured to Tzfat the birthplace of Kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism. At about 0930 our group gathered close for the Shechecheyanu in a playground to respect the first stop on our journeys in Israel. Although it was a half day it was full of educational lessons that carried on to an evening discussion during Shabbat program time. A visit with David Friedman showed us how multidimensional humans are with four main points: the body, heart, mind, and soul. He shared how he utilized meditative practices, breathing techniques, and grounding rituals to bridge the gap between body and soul. One question was posed to the group was “What is your Jewish center?” which would be readdressed at a later point. We left Tzfat and headed to the Sea of Galilee to the city of Tiberias, which is 2000 years old this year. After unpacking and changing into our nice outfits it was time for Shabbat.
To start we recognize how this day is different from all the other days with Kabbalat Shabbat. Recognizing how important it is to pause the everyday commotion to spend time with God, family, and the community. In a group discussion we all shared what Shabbat meant to us growing up and what we hoped to take with us from the birthright experience. I had the privilege of saying the prayer over the wine, and we prayed over the bread and said our candle lighting prayers. The rest of Friday evening was spent relaxing in the hotel with a great view of the Sea of Galilee. Saturday’s theme was ultimate relaxation with most of the day being at the hot springs along the Sea of Galilee and with free time. By this point, we’ve all become close friends sharing life stories and creating strong relationships. In the late afternoon we had small group discussions on what Jewish values are most important to everybody. Some of the popular ones were family, tradition, and resilience. We then closed Shabbat with a tradition called havdalah. This tradition is important to keep the sacred day holy and separate from all the other days. With that, we said Shavua tov and we’ll see what the rest of the week holds.
– Danielle Freeman