Greetings from Israel!

Tags: Birthright, Young Adults, I-connect, Teens, Israel, Federation

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Updates from the Summer 2018 Cleveland Community Birthright Trip

Birthright is a free 10-day trip for Jewish Clevelanders ages 22-26 to explore Israel’s most remarkable tourist destinations. Check out a few trip highlights below.

For more information, contact Matt Newman at mnewman@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2880.

July 4, 2018

"As we landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, we were overcome with joy as our journey has finally begun. We made our drive towards our hotel where friendships immediately started to form. With our 40 participants being from 19 different states, we have a really diverse group! After participating in some ice-breakers, we called it a night to prepare for the days ahead.

The sun woke us up extra early as we were ready to experience our first full day in Israel! Our day began in the Upper Galilee Tel Dan where we learned about how Israel is at the forefront of water technology, including that Israel has a surplus of water! We then made our way to the Golan Heights where we had the opportunity to tour a bunker and have a small sense of what life is like as a soldier in the IDF. We then rafted through the winding Jordan River having an opportunity to cool off from the sun! We are looking forward to our time in Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city in Israel. We can't believe our first day is coming to an end and can't wait to see to experience more of this magnificent country!" – Matt and Sydney, Trip Leaders

July 9, 2018

"As we awoke Friday, we were getting excited to meet the eight Israelis that would be joining our bus for the next five days. We were in Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city, and got a personal tour of the Archaeological National Park where we saw the public baths, beautiful mosaics and other ancient structures. Our time in Beit Shean was so special as each participant felt a true connection and like they had found a home away from home with the hospitality the locals had shared with us. We got on the bus and began our journey to the Old City, Jerusalem. We were all anxiously awaiting meeting our Israeli peers! We met in a beautiful park and did some ice breakers before we headed to Ben Yehuda with the assistance of our eight new Israeli friends showing us all of the delicious local spots.

We gathered back together to head to the hotel and start getting ready for Shabbat. Spending a Friday in Jerusalem was something that the group felt was extremely special. We had really started to form a beautiful bond throughout the last couple of days together, and Kabbalat Shabbat sealed that bond, making us like a family of 48. The room was filled with songs, followed by Kiddush and Hamotzi at our festive Shabbat dinner. After eating our wonderful meal, we went to a park across the way to have Oneg Shabbat and share what Shabbat meant to us individually. Each people had different answers, making us realize there’s no one way to celebrate your customs and be a part of the Jewish community.

Saturday morning we started the day off with an optional service at an Orthodox temple in the heart of Jerusalem. Each participant came away with their own experience, and everyone was welcomed with open arms by the congregation and it was truly a heartwarming experience. When we got back to the hotel, we had an activity where we thought deeply about Jewish values and what they mean to us. Each group got a bag of 20 values and was asked to organize them in order of most important to least. Some examples included Israel, Traditions, Kashrut, Synagogue, among others. It was interesting to learn the differences not only between individuals but also between cultures as American answers varied from Israelis perspective. Afterwards, Iftah Burman, a Middle East geopolitics expert gave us a riveting political seminar on the middle eastern conflict.

Our afternoon was celebrated in true Shabbat style, having some well-deserved rest with an optional yoga class and free time in the park and at the pool. We had a great time together lounging at the pool and relaxing in the sun. We had some time to reflect on the political lecture and half of the group followed it with a riveting and interactive political discussion where everyone had a chance to give their two cents on the matter, while the other half of the group reflected on our Jewish activity earlier and had a beautiful discussion about what being Jewish meant to them. We then walked to the park across the street to conclude our Shabbat with a meaningful and memorable Havdallah service followed by a night out on the town in Jerusalem at Mahane Yehuda!

We look forward to all that our days have in store for us, especially the Dead Sea, Masada and our overnight in the Bedouin tents!" – Matt and Sydney, Trip Leaders

“Last Tuesday I arrived at JFK for my Birthright trip knowing only my cousin, Sydney, who was staffing the trip. All the same, I was anxious to meet new people who I would be traveling with. As I arrived at JFK I quickly met three others who would be on my trip. That group of three quickly turned into the 40 of us who would be traveling together for 10 days. Friendships and connections started to form immediately, however none of us knew how emotionally strong our relationships would become in the following days. After a long flight, we finally landed in Israel. Immediately as we landed, I noticed the people in front of me started clapping. They weren’t clapping because we landed from a safe flight; they were clapping because we were home. While I could talk about the entire experience, I want to focus on two special experiences- our time in Tzfat and our time in Beit Shean.

Tzfat: the mystical city. This was a special experience that I could easily write a book about, but instead, I’ll write about one special moment: We visited Abu Hav Synagogue, which was preparing for a Bar Mitzvah and knew that our time there was limited. As we were leaving Tzfat we encountered a processional of the family of the Bar Mitzvah marching down the street with beautiful music and songs, a Chuppah and very proud 13 year old boy who blew a Shofar with more chutzpah than anyone I’ve ever seen. Some of us cried, some of us clapped while others sang along, but the one thing that we all had in common was the smile on our faces and pride for the 13 year old.

After leaving Tzfat, we were excited to travel to Cleveland’s sister city of Beit Shean where we were invited into the homes of two local chefs, one who immigrated to Israel from Tunisia and one who immigrated from Persia. Sharing food is a truly communal experience and as a hospitality major, it was truly special for this family to invite us into their homes. They even gave us a plate of desert to bring back on our bus! After dinner, we enjoyed a couple hours at the Skitomarket Festival (festival celebrating the first day of summer) in Beit Shean. This was an awesome celebration with life music, street vendors selling art and food and tons of activities for people of all ages. As I was walking around, I was stopped by a woman who was videotaping the festival on Facebook Live. When I told her I was from Cleveland her eyes lit up in excitement and we started discussing the Cleveland/Beit Shean partnership. At that moment, she pointed out the Mayor of Beit Shean and he took a picture with some of our trip participants. This was a truly special evening for us to live with the locals and celebrate the beginning of summer. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.” – Gabe Goldstein, Trip Participant from Russel Township

July 12, 2018

"On Tuesday, we woke up at 3:00 am to ascend Masada for the sunrise. The views were simply breathtaking and the company even better. We then headed to the Dead Sea where we were able to experience the lowest point on earth while experiencing the true Israeli heat (it was 45 degrees Celsius = 113 degrees Fahrenheit)! After a long air conditioned bus ride, we arrived at site of a Bedouin community where we were able to take in their culture. We went on a night hike where we took a celestial tour of the southern Israeli sky. We celebrated hump day by riding camels and made our way to Tel Aviv to explore the startup nation. It’s crazy our trip is coming to an end, but we look forward to spending our last day together." – Matt and Sydney, Trip Leaders

“After I graduated from high school, I felt very disconnected from Judaism. I was skeptical when I was told that birthright trips are life changing, but that is absolutely 100% true. The people I've met, places we went to, and the conversations we had will stick with me for the rest of my life.” – Jessica Hirsh, Trip Participant from Pepper Pike

“As cliché as it may sound, birthright has truly been a life changing experience. I came on birthright expecting just to tour Israel, ride camels, and tan on the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv. Reflecting back on this trip it’s been so much more than that. I was able to connect with people all over the United States and the Israelis and learned that being Jewish is more than just about religion. It’s a culture and lifestyle we are all a part of, and the traditions and values we share are evident throughout this community, which is why I know the friendships I’ve made on this trip will last a lifetime.

The highlights of my trip include hiking Mount Arbel, exploring Jerusalem, and of course swimming in the Dead Sea and camel riding in the desert. Also, while staying in the Bedouin tents we walked out about 10 minutes from the campsite to view the stars. I don’t think I have ever seen so many stars in the night sky as I did out there. Pictures will never do justice to the breath taking views of all the different cities and mountains we visited. It seems as if we have been in Israel for months because of all the sites we have seen and how well we all got to know each other, yet I can’t believe we are about to board a plane to go home tomorrow, time on this trip flew by. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go on Birthright, I’m excited to share the memories with my friends and family!”– Alex Landis, Trip Participant from Mayfield Heights

“This trip has given me a new perspective on the world and what it means to be Jewish. Some of the highlights of this trip were swimming in the Dead Sea, hiking Masada at sunrise and viewing more stars than I have ever seen in the Negev Desert at night. I am so grateful for all of the once in a lifetime opportunities I have been given through this trip and for all of the amazing people I have met. I will never forget the experiences and memories I have gained and I already want to come back!”– Jessica Silver, Trip Participant from Mayfield Heights

“I never thought that I could get so close to so many people in such a short amount of time. The 8 Israelis that joined our group changed the group dynamic by teaching us about their life style and culture and allowing us to show them ours as Jewish Americans. Having the chance to hear my new Israeli friends tell their stories of their friends who died and we’re buried on Mount Herzl moved me and gave me a whole new perspective to the Jewish people and how hard we fight to keep our culture and religion alive in the world today. I will never forget camping in the Bedouin tents and star gazing in the desert, or feeling my cuts burn in the Dead Sea and laughing with my new friends. We have truly created a community over these past 10 days and I know the friends that I made on this trip will be friends for life.” – Lindsay Silver, Trip Participant from Mayfield Heights

“Coming from not a super religious background, I have learned so many things about my Jewish heritage. It has been an eye opening experience and I have a quite a few things to take back with me when I go back to the states. The most impactful thing for me has been having the chance to spend time with 8 Israelis who became family in just 5 days.”– Dana Lautenschleger, Trip Participant from Solon

“Coming to Israel for the first time has been an incredible experience that has better connected me to my Jewish identity. I have really enjoyed all of the activities such as visiting Masada and the Dead Sea, as well as visiting and meeting people from Cleveland’s sister city, Beit Shean. I have loved being able to connect with other Jewish young adults from the Cleveland area as well as from 18 other states and Israel.”– Jamie Lautenschleger, Trip Participant from Solon

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Learn More: Birthright, Young Adults, I-connect, Teens, Israel, Federation