Hello friends and family! Or, should I say “shalom!” It’s only our second day in Israel, yet we’ve seen so much and had many opportunities to bond as a group. After a fun, albeit very long flight, we arrived in Tel Aviv. And what a welcome we had! As we walked out of the baggage claim, we were joyously greeted by our Israeli peers with song and drum music. There are 7 Israeli soldiers who are off-duty with us the entire week. It’s been wonderful getting to know them so far. Our welcome definitely has set the tone for the entire trip - everyone is so excited to share such a special trip and that energy makes each day (even the flight!) really fun. En route to our hotel in Jerusalem, we stopped at a scenic overlook of Jerusalem for our welcome ceremony. As a group, we recited the Shehechiyuanu, the blessing for renewal, and enjoyed some delicious grape juice. After dinner at the hotel, we had a chance to become better acquainted with each other. It’s amazing what a small world it is - so many of us have lots of mutual friends, or even knew each other in childhood! On Wednesday, we got an early start to the day, hiking on the outskirts of Jerusalem. What struck many of us was how green the countryside is. Lior, one of our Shorashim guides, informed us that Israel’s terrain has 25% of the world’s plants represented…very impressive since the country is about the same size as New Jersey! During our hike, we had a chance to explore a cave with a spring in it. Luckily many of us had flashlights. When we did turn the lights out inside, it was so dark! Our next stop was the first presidential house. It was quite striking how small and modest it is - very different than our White House. We also saw Benjamin Netanyahu’s (the Prime Minister) home and had the chance to walk along the street beside it on our way to lunch. We explored on our own for lunch. Many of us had delicious shawarma or falafel. It was so much better than the Pita Pit in Chicago! The final adventure of the day was visiting the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jewish Quarter. We walked along the cobblestone streets, admiring the gorgeous architecture. Since people still live in the old city, it was bustling with children running about playing. We learned the history of who controlled Jerusalem during different times. The final part of our visit to the Quarter was the Western Wall. It was incredibly moving. Being able to stand at the Wall and leave a prayer was so powerful, knowing this action links us to millions of other Jews and visitors. At the end of the day, it was back to hotel for dinner and our group activity - preparing for tomorrow’s visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Looking through all the photos we’ve taken already, it seems like we’ve been here weeks enjoying this amazing country. Can’t wait to experience the rest!