Shalom from Israel!

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

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Updates from the Summer 2017 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.

June 20, 2017

"When we finally landed at Ben-Gurion International airport I instantly was filled with excitement and joy. I couldn't wait to begin this experience. We quickly got to connect as a group and formed very fast friendships. Once on our way, the first stop was at the Ceaserea aqueducts, about half a mile from the ancient port of Caesarea. It was fascinating to see where our ancestors once were. With every experience I continue to fall in love with this incredible country more and more." –Shelby Kammer, Birthright Participant

"The sun woke us up extra early as we were ready to experience our first full day in Israel! Our journey began in the Golan Heights where he had the opportunity to tour a bunker and have a small sense of what life is like as a soldier in the IDF. We took a scenic water-hike through a natural spring and beautiful waterfalls. We then rafted through the winding Jordan River having an opportunity to cool off in the sun! We are looking forward to our time in Beit Shean where we are completing a project with Youth Futures. We can't believe we have already been in Israel for 24 hours and can't wait to see to experience more of this magnificent country!" -Matt and Mandy, Trip Leaders

June 23, 2017

"We began our third day by touring the mystical city of Tzfat, one of the four holy cities of Israel. We traveled through the vast winding roads, visiting Synagogues and galleries. While our time in Tzfat was short, it was inspiring to hear about the rich history of the city. On the way to Beit Shean (Cleveland's sister city) we visited a winery that specialized in non-grape wines and learned more about the Kibbutz lifestyle.

Our time in Beit Shean was eye opening to say the least. Traveling to the periphery of Israel is a completely different experience than visiting the larger cities. We split into two groups and were welcomed into the home of an Iraqi and a Moroccan family. We were able to hear their story of how they immigrated to Israel and the affect that the Cooks of the Regions program has had on their lives.

The next morning we volunteered at a school in Beit Shean where we built furniture, planted a garden and played games with 8-13 year olds. Our bus gained 8 Israeli friends for the next five days. We went on a refreshing water hike before wrapping up our time in Beit Shean.

We then traveled south to Tel Aviv where we had a relaxing morning on the white-sand beach. We visited the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange where we learned that Tel Aviv is second to Silicon Valley in start-up companies! While our time in Tel Aviv is wrapping up, we are looking forward to welcoming Shabbat in the holy land." -Matt and Mandy, Trip Leaders

"We have gone from the Golan Heights and the Syrian border, to the wonderful home away from home of Beit Shean to the historic and spirit-filled ancient city of Tzvat, to the concrete jungle of Tel Aviv, and somehow it's only been four days. There are three experiences thus far that have stuck with me so much that I can't get them out of my head. Floating down the Jordan river with a group of 40 people who were strangers the day before, and have now become fast friends, was both remarkable and hysterical. Dinner at a local Beit Shean family's home was touching beyond expectation or belief - wonderful food, family, and friends, and finally, getting to meet and help the children of a Beit Shean elementary school. They were funny, smart, sweet, and wise beyond their years. So incredibly powerful and interesting to meet children who have grown up in such different circumstances and speak completely different languages, but simply by a game of pick up football we are high fiving, laughing, and hugging. "- Ellen Doernberg, Cleveland

"We're halfway through our Israel Outdoors trip and I couldn't have anticipated how eye opening and fun this trip could have been. It was so surreal to be on the Syrian border one day able to hear a war going on and learn how it effects us, then the next day, enjoy a casual water hike bonding with my fellow group members. I don't know what to expect for the second half of the trip, but I think that's the best part." -Eran Hami, Cleveland

June 25, 2017

"'Do not believe anything I say' - various guides and speakers

I converted to Judaism a little less that two years ago. During my first time in the mikvah to finalize my conversion process and to start my life as a Jew, I prayed a shehecheyanu. This trip started at Caesarea overlooking where our ancestors were kicked out of Israel and visiting an ancient but breathtaking aqueduct system. We noted that this might be the first time in our family that many of us have been back to Israel and prayed a shehecheyanu. I have come full circle.

After my conversion, I have tried to foster a connection to the Jewish land. I arrived to Israel looking to have a deeper connection to this land that I had both studied about in the Torah and read about in the news. I wanted guides, speakers, and staff to teach me and to let me know right from wrong. Instead, I have learned that there is no such thing. I have learned that, just like in Judaism, it is imperative to learn, discuss, and reflect upon the history of our land, people, and geo-political conflicts. I know nothing, but I will continue in my search for knowledge. As I reflect upon our time here, I know that my journey is far from over; my journey has only just started.

I look forward with excitement for the last three days of our trip, where we will get to explore Jerusalem, stay at the dessert, hike Masada, and swim at the Dead Sea."- Bianca Faccio, San Juan, Puerto Rico

"We arrived in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, in time for Shabbat. Our group discussed the significance of the holiday and ways to keep Shabbat by differentiating it from the rest of the week. After lighting candles and enjoying a delicious Shabbat dinner, we celebrated with an oneg (a Jewish celebration in honor of the Sabbath that takes place on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon).

Our group enjoyed a relaxed Saturday, resting, schmoozing, and enjoying the beautiful weather. We had a lively conversation on our Jewish identities as our participants worked as a group to select Jewish traditions and values that were most important to them. Our Israeli participants led a rousing session of games and relays that are typical growing up in Israel. We also shared stories and a quick text study relating to our trip to Yad Vashem the next day.

After a beautiful sunset, we all participated in Havdallah (a Jewish religious ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath.) and a political seminar highlighting the history of Israel and the conflict surround its land. Saturday night our group bonded quite a bit with a lively jam session led by our Israeli friends on the trip. We can't believe our time in Israel is halfway over, but are looking forward to visiting the old city of Jerusalem over the next few days." -Matt and Mandy, Trip Leaders

"Today we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Having gone to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the old Holocaust Museum in Israel nine years ago, I didn't quite know what to expect from this experience. I must say that I was blown away. The architecture in this museum is expertly designed. The main section of the museum consists of a long hallway in the shape of a triangle. This is symbolic of half a Jewish Star. It is representative of the slaughtering of half of the Jewish people in this massacre. The hallway serves as a timeline, dating from life before the Holocaust to the eventual liberation. As the hallway continues, the walls close in on the viewers. The walls create an aura of choking and the shortest width occurs during the climax of the Holocaust, The Final Solution. Overall I think that this museum is very powerful.

The room that spoke to me the most was the hall of names. This is a room that serves as a figurative mass burial site of all the Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. On the wall are books upon books with the names of over 4 million of the individuals who's lives were taken from them unjustly. It's a room full of emotion. This is the last part of the exhibit before the hallway opens up to the outside world. It is at this moment that I experience thousands of emotions flush in at once. In front of me is a birds eye view of Jerusalem. I cannot put into words how impactful this scene is. It is a reminder that, although the Holocaust was one of the darkest moments in Jewish history (indeed one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind) there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Jewish people survived and Jerusalem is living proof that we are alive and well. I will never take for granted my heritage and I will be forever humble that I got an opportunity to set foot in the Holy Land." -Andrew Hartstein, Cleveland

June 28, 2017

"The last two days of our trip flew by. On Sunday we visited Har Herzl where we heard the stories of those who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of a Jewish state. Visiting the graves of fallen soldiers was extremely eye opening. While the headstones were in Hebrew, we could all still read the age of the soldiers when they died. Many of them were younger than us which was shocking and moving for us. Our Israeli soldiers told stories of some of what they experienced while in the IDF, and another reminder was given that many of the soldiers were our age when they served. This hit our group quite hard, as we had now bonded with our Israeli friends quite closely.

After Har Herzl, we participated in a walking tour and quick shuk trip for last minute goodies. Our next stop, the Western Wall, was highly anticipated and very emotional for many. Some of our group members were the first to visit the wall in 2,000 years from their families, and the realization of this significance was quite strong. From there we said goodbye to our Israeli soldiers, who quickly became the heart of our trip. After some teary goodbyes we planned to keep in touch and visit as soon as possible.

We then set out for the Bedouin tents in the Negev. Camel riding was a hit, and we all enjoyed a traditional shared meal in the tents. One of the highlights of our trip was our stargazing hike and guided meditation in the desert. Our tour guide led us past the Bedouin compound for an intimate session with ourselves and our Jewish identities. This hike was very impactful for us and was amazing to see so many stars and an open sky in such a spiritual place. The next morning, we had a jam packed day. From Masada at sunrise where 5 people had their B'nai Mitzvah, to swimming in the Dead Sea covered in mud, this was a meaningful day for us to connect to this amazing place. After the Dead Sea, we wrapped up our trip with a group processing session where everyone shared their 'wow' moments and takeaways on the trip. We were amazed with how much we accomplished in such a short amount of time. Our last activity of the night was a relaxed leisure evening in the town of Zikhron Ya’akov. After Independence hall, it was time for us to depart. This was not a goodbye, but rather a see you later as we hope many of us will return to Israel soon. We can't believe our journey is coming to an end, but are excited to stay in touch as we each depart on our own continued Jewish journeys as a community of close friends." -Matt and Mandy, Trip Leaders

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