From the sea to the city, so much to see and drink in!
On the morning of the 24th, we left our home away from home at the kibbutz. Eager for the day, we loaded into the bus and as we weaved through the hills, we said our goodbyes to the Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights. In classic Birthright style, our day was scheduled squeezing in as much as possible. Our first stop was at Haifa, the sister city of Boston, and home for many of our Israeli friends. We went to a high school where we collaborated with the students. Walking down the hallways lined with lockers and gossiping students, and I couldn't help but having the same sense of relief I have whenever I visit a high school, that I will never need to return. Despite the language difference and being halfway across the world, the quintessential high school experience remained the same. Later, while discussing the experience with the group, I was surprised to find that my sentiment was shared by both American and Israeli participants. The insecurity, anxiety and angst that I associate with high schools were thick in the air, but evaporated once we began the programs. The first part of the program was designed to help us begin a dialog with these students on the similarities and differences we experience as Jews. Next, in the gymnasium, we received Ethiopian dance lessons. We laughed and giggled as we tried to imitate our teacher bouncing our shoulder up and down and shaking our hips. The shared experience and sentiments, not only with our friends on our trip, but also with the high schoolers shortened the culture gap between Israel and the US that has been shrinking since we arrived.
Hungry and excited, we left Haifa and made our way to Tel Aviv. With only one hour to spare, we found food and quickly made our way to Shuk Hacarmel. The Shuk is a large open air market that has a variety of stands including ones which sell everything from spices, dried fruit, funky clothing, jewelry, and (my personal favorite) a stand dedicated entirely to gummy candy. When our hour ran out, we reunited and began our history portion of our time in Tel Aviv.
We went to Rabin Square and learned about Prime Minister Rabin, an Israeli Prime Minister who became an advocate for peace and created the framework for the Peace Accords. The country was shocked when Rabin was shot and killed by an Israeli Jew before he could secure peace for Israel. With so much external struggle within Israel, the internal violence became the hurdle for peace. We talked to Israelis on the street about their memories and impression from this powerful event. The more cynical believed that all hope of peace was lost the moment Rabin died. The more optimistic felt the country had learned from this tragic event and in turn have grown and evolved. The Israelis in our trip reminisce on their early education where Rabin was depicted as a martyr who died in his quest for peace by the violence performed by his own people. Independence hall was the other portion of the history lesson. We learned about the formation of the country of Israel. Our proud and nationalist guide told us Israel is her home and if threatened,she is willing to take up arms and in turn kill for her country. She then told us how the Israelis fought the Arabs to win back their land. The Arabs were settled in this place and it was their home, and they were absolutely willing to kill for their country. This quagmire has been the driving force of the Arab/Israeli conflict and the reason for thousands of lost lives. After learning about Rabin's fight for peace, the aggressive nationalistic pride was overwhelming to witness and seemed to perpetuate the problem.
In Tel Aviv, we were able to enjoy an unexpected extravagance at the Dan Panorama Hotel. At this beautiful four star hotel located on the beach, we were each assigned beautiful rooms with balconies overlooking Tel Aviv with the Mediterranean backdrop. At the hotel, I was reminded of the privilege we have to be on this trip free of charge. Not only have we been able to experience Israel and learn about the area, we are also able to stay in luxury accommodations all with the intention of allowing us to be comfortable.
Before we could go out for our night out in Tel Aviv, we received one more special treat. Roy Levi, a talented and famous musician, and his son performed and presented to our group. Roy Levi was able to encapsulate a person, place and time through his music. Levi sang of brothers and sisters coming together as equals for peace in a beautiful musical performance. For our night out, we went to the Jaffa and split into groups. Although we went out earlier than any other Israeli, we were still able to enjoy ourselves at the bars and witness the famous nightlife in Tel Aviv.