Shalom, Israel! | Shorashim - Israel with Israelis

Shalom, Israel!

By Andrew Max and Danielle McKinstry

While we are typing this at the airport on the way home, our entire bus is reflecting on all of the amazing things we have done together these past ten days. Just two days ago we were hiking Masada, and a few days before that we were in Tzvat! It's crazy to think about how much of this beautiful country we get to see in such a short amount of time. 

The past 2 days were particularly emotional. On Friday, we began the day by visiting Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetary. Our soldiers wore their uniforms for only the 3rd time during the trip and we soon learned why. We walked through the graves of the soldiers killed in action, most of them within a year of our ages, and we stopped at a few particularly storied or relevant graves. As we continued from stop to stop, we grew more and more emotional as the indiscriminately ruthless reality of Israel's fight for survival began to sink in. Seemingly everyone we came across had a heartbreaking story to tell and as we passed mothers and fathers visiting their children's final resting places before Shabbat that night, they stopped us and asked us if we could spare a few minutes so they could share the legacy of their child. Once we were all in tears and had heard a number of stories from this place, we ventured up to the Prime Minister's section of Mount Herzl. Here we read about Golda Meir and Yitzchak Rabin. Finally we made it to the top of the mountain to find Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionsim's grave. Looking back we really came to appreciate the way the cemetary is organized and designed as well as the individuals who are buried there.



Our next stop of the day was to Ammunition Hill, a JNF site commemorating the battle that led to the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. We were joined by JNF International Board Member and Orlando resident, Bruce Gould, who introduced himself, shared with us his take on the importance of the site. He then accompanied us on our tour answering any questions we may have had. The memorial was stunning and many of us could visualize the battle based on the terrain and the short film we watched. All of us understood the strategic advantage of the territory after enjoying the view of the city we had from Ammunition Hill. Reunifying Jerusalem was a pivotal point in the history of Israel and the Jewish People, and it was amazing to learn about the story while standing on that very spot.

We stopped on Ben Yedhuda Street for some lunch and shopping before preparing for Shabbat. We had a ceremony for Kabbalat Shabbat, held Shabbat services, and enjoyed dinner together. It was a relaxing way to wind down after such an emotional day. 

On Saturday, we had a late breakfast (yay!) and then learned about this week's Parasha. Our whole bus spilt into four different groups and each group took on a section of the Parasha to explain through a skit! All the skits were filled with jokes from the trip and we had such a fun time making and performing them! This was then followed by lunch, then a wrap up of the trip. We played a trivia game to test our memory of what we learned the past ten days at each site. It was the women versus the men of the trip, with the women ultimately being named the champions (by one point)! The questions ranged from historical information to the jokes that caught on throughout the trip. We then all had an opportunity to share our favorite moments of the trip with the entire group. We laughed and cried reminiscing about the amazing time that we have had together. 

We ended our last Shabbat by having Havdallah on Ben Yehuda Street. All of us singing together, swaying back and forth in a giant circle, was a beautiful site to be seen by the people walking by on the street. After the service was  over, we had time to eat dinner, grab last minute gifts for friends and family, and pack to get ready to leave for the airport a few hours later! 

We packed the bus at 1:30 am and arrived to Ben Gurion airport an hour later. With a lot of tears, we had to say goodbye to our wonderful Israeli participants, Rony (our tour guide), Vlad (our medic), Raed (our bus driver), and to the people who were extending their trip. It was our hardest goodbyes after forming such close friendships with these people, but the memories we made together will last for a lifetime. Four hours later, we were boarding the first plane to Vienna, then arrived in Miami at 4:45 pm. 

Seriously, these past ten days have flown by. It was an incredible, life changing experience for Bus 818 and we can't wait to see our friends back on campus in the Fall! It's not goodbye, it's see you later, Israel.