Day 3 in Israel was a jam-packed day, with plenty of travel and activities to keep us occupied.
The day started with an Israeli breakfast at our hotel in Tel Aviv, and suiting up for surfing in the Mediterranean Sea, something I was super excited about. I personally have tried (and failed) surfing once, so I was on a quest for redemption.
This activity was much more meaningful than just catching some waves and having a good time. We were able to hear from the founding members of HaGal Sheli, a nonprofit organization that was started to teach at risk and disadvantaged youth how to surf. They were kind enough to show us how to stand up on our boards (albeit, on the sand it was 1000x easier) and helped us through the surfing. Some of us were successful, and caught a few waves! Others ended up splashing around, and some ended up with gnarly bruises, scrapes and cuts (shoutout to Marissa). But, when all was said and done, it was a great experience, and look into the organization's altruistic beginnings.
Circled up after surfing, they asked us to consider how we would possibly feel if we were at risk youth. If we were young kids or teenagers with a tough life, yet surfing was the one thing that we could use to seek solace and have that feeling of success and accomplishment. It was in that moment that I realized that the work of this group is a lot more than meets the eye, and that they are doing great work in the community.
Next, we headed to the Birthright Entrepreneurship Center in Tel Aviv, where we had the opportunity to explore some of the innovations that occur in Israel, known as the "startup nation." Surprisingly, they were endless. Pill cameras used in medicine, familiar iPhone apps like Waze, and even water (yes, real water) made from air. It's no surprise Israel got this nickname, and it was something I did not know and appreciate until this day. There were exhibitions about programs and inventions in areas of technology, medicine, transportation, agriculture- the possibilities were endless, and I left the center with a much greater appreciation for everything happening in this country smaller than New Jersey. The next time you hear about a new company or innovation, see if it by any chance hails from Israel!
We then had a quick opportunity to get a bite of lunch on historic Rosthchild Boulevard. The street was lined with restaurants, including a seemingly popular bar-in-the-street style, and we all made it back to our meeting spot just in time for a very special site on the same street.
It was time to visit Independence Hall, located in the old home-turned-art gallery of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. The building is dedicated to commemorating the state of Israel's independence. An introductory video prefaced our visit to "The Room Where It Happened" (Hamilton, anyone?), where we learned more about how the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, and the circumstances surrounding the declaration. We sat in the very room where Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the state to be in existence, finally, after 2,000 years of no Jewish state as a home for us.
The most interesting part to me was hearing about how rushed and secretive this official declaration was, due to controversy and arguments surrounding the state's borders, land sharing with the Palestinians, and existence in general. Invitations were sent the night before. An hour before the official announcement, there was still no written declaration or name for the state.
Through maps of Israel over time, seeing the negotiations between areas of Palestine, Israel, and how they have changed over time, we could really put ourselves in that moment, with those who physically negotiated this land to give us a home.
In addition, the moment that was the most sentimental was hearing a recording of David Ben-Gurion declare the existence of the State of Israel. Although the recording was in Hebrew, we had a translation from the museum staff, bringing it full circle so we could understand and appreciate the historic moment.
With our hearts full of renewed pride and peaked interest at the history of the homeland, we headed onto the bus for a long ride to the north- the Golan Heights, but only after a brief stop at the home of one of our Israeli participants, Uri, where he beautifully serenaded us on his piano, including a piece he composed himself.
After boarding the bus and heading north, I can confidently say that the majority of us slept (especially since the night before was our night out in Tel Aviv, and we got to bed late). By the time I had my eyes cracked open, I managed to take a sneak peek at the Sea of Galilee and the rolling mountains of the north.
Once we arrived at our kibbutz about three hours after we left Tel Aviv, we experienced a kibbutz dinner, including many fresh vegetables, meats, and lots of refreshing cold water. Afterwards, we got our new roommate assignments, dropped our stuff and headed to a kibbutz group room for a few activities.
The first of the festivities was a speed dating activity, getting the chance to know everyone a little bit better, while sharing our most embarrassing moments and wishes for travel. Afterwards, the lights were dimmed, and we sat in a large circle. Here, we were prompted to share our experiences that led us to come on this Birthright trip. It was quite emotional for some- we all are here for different reasons, whether we grew up in a strong Jewish community, or are using this trip as an experience to better connect to our heritage and find our way in the religion.
There was a wide spectrum of feelings within the group, and after only three days, it really opened my mind and heart to everyone's story and background. Surprisingly, sharing something so intimate made me very comfortable with these 47 people that I just met, and I continue to get to know them better every day. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be on this trip with every wonderful person here, and bond through not only religion, but stories and life experiences. I wouldn't have it any other way!
P.S. This is a requested shoutout to Bianca's mom from Bianca herself