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Mayanot 205

Mayanot 205

Summer 2017

Follow BU students on their first trip ever to Israel on birthright this summer!

Resilience; Closing Reflections

Throughout our trip, we learned so many important stories that demonstrated the resilience of the Jewish people. We have walked in the same deserts and on the same beaches as our ancestors did when they were forced off the land. We have climbed the same mountains, swam in the same oceans and prayed at the same Holy Temple. 

I have realized through this experience that the utter resilience of the Jewish people is what makes Israel important. Our ancestors didn't know if we would ever make it back. Yet, there we were, toasting to the same aqueducts of Caesarea and sitting under the stars in the same Negev. We made it back because the Jews have fought for thousands of years to protect this land. We made it back because the Jewish people are resilient, and this has continued on for each generation. 
I think I have realized my own resilience through this experience. I now understand how deeply it is rooted in my bones. This trip truly pushed my limits, from climbing down Mount Arbel after only two hours of sleep to standing at the Kotel on Shabbat with thousands of strangers who were all there for the same reason. Although I had aching feet and droopy eyelids, I continued. I was walking on the same land that my ancestors fought to protect, and clearly we have done something right for thousands of years because we were able to return. 
Israel is important because it is a home for people who are resilient. It is a home to people who are willing to die for their country and for their ancestors who once died for them. Israel is made up of strong, determined, and yes - resilient - people who can overcome anything. I am so proud to have been born with this resilience in my blood. 

Expecting Miracles; closing reflections

Even though I grew up as a Reform Jew, Judaism has always played a big part in my life. I attended Hebrew School for 13 years, I can read Hebrew, I spent a summer at a Jewish sleepaway camp, and I was very involved in BBYO, a Jewish youth organization in high school. However when I got to college, I'm saddened to say I lost much of my connection to the religion. I still observed the high holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, even though none of my friends at Binghamton are Jewish, and many struggled to understand my connection to these holidays, since I hardly observed any other part of the religion. Here I am, a college graduate, and I have finally re discovered the connection to this beautiful religion that I have craved for the past four years. I regret not taking advantage of the opportunities that Chabad and other Jewish groups on campus had to offer. However, regret doesn't get you anywhere in life. Instead, I will be taking this feeling of regret and turning it into a feeling of opportunity. I spent a good portion of the trip asking Rabbi Levi and other Israeli staff about what simple things I can do on a daily basis to feel more connected to my religion. It's easy to feel connected when you're in the most Jewish country on earth, but carrying that feeling back to America can be difficult. Rabbi has encouraged me to begin my day with the Modeh Ani morning prayer, to say the Sh'ma at least once a day, and of course, attend Shabbat services at Chabad as a graduate student at Binghamton next year. 

Throughout Hebrew school, we always learned of the stories of Moses, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and many other prophets and patriarchs. I'm not gonna lie; I was a little skeptical of whether these stories actually held any truth. But coming to Israel and actually seeing where these stories took place has confirmed my faith in Judaism and made me eager to learn more. I've heard all my life what kind of impact Israel can have on people, but I never really understood it until these past 10 days. Now, I will never let that feeling go.

Before the trip, Rabbi Levi asked us to write down our wants and expectations for the trip. One thing I wanted was to witness something incredible, perhaps a miracle. This was obviously a huge expectation, but here's what I learned the past 10 days. Miracles happen every day. Maybe Moses isn't splitting the Red Sea on a daily basis and Noah isn't building an ark and saving mankind all the time, but miracles happen in small doses right before our eyes every day, and often times we don't take the time to appreciate them enough. I witnessed a few extraordinary things this trip, but one was Saturday morning when I went out for services with Rabbi Levi, we spent around 15 minutes looking for the services, when we only had about 40 minutes to spare. If we didn't find it within a few minutes, we would have likely missed out on services. On a deserted street, we found a man walking to the services, through a building, into a random apartment, and into the specific room we needed and we were able to join the Minyan. Maybe this was just pure luck, but in the beautiful land of Israel, I'd like to think it was a little miracle that we happened to wake up when we did which led us to eat breakfast when we did, which made us leave the hotel when we did, which in turn is why we got lost for as long as we did, just so we could run into this man and find the service. If there's anywhere that I would bet on witnessing a miracle on any given day, it would, without a doubt, be Israel. 

Day 8: From Tel Aviv to the Bedouin Tents

Woke up today at about 7:15. It was a tough wake up after a fun night in Tel Aviv. I had shakshuka for breakfast and then we got on the bus at about 8:30. Then we went to the beach! It was a lot of fun. The water was beautiful and the sand was soft. The water was saltier than the water at home, but not unbearable. Nothing like I'm sure the Dead Sea will be like lol. We were a bit short staffed because Rabbi stayed back with kids who overslept and was going to take a cab to meet us. After the beach, we walked into the city and went to the Tel Aviv Stock exchange, which is where the birthright innovation center is and we learned all about the different awesome inventions that come out of Isreal. Charles Bronfam happened to be there while we were and he spoke for a bit. He's super duper rich (we googled his net worth, 2.3 billion) and has donated millions to birthright. He's the highest of head hanchos so that was pretty cool. I introduced myself and told him that Ariel is the best tour guide ever and deserves a quadruple pay raise for how amazing he is. Then we had a presentation from a guy who is an advisor for entrepreneurs which was interesting. Then we went to the market for lunch and I tried this place that Arielle recommended called Basta Pasta which was really delicious. I walked around the market a bit and then we got back on the bus at 3:30 and then we were en route to the desert for the Bedouin Tents. We made a stop at David Ben Gurion's grave to see him and his wife. Batsheva told us all about him and how he was the architect of the state of Israel. The view from his burial was magnificent. We got to the tents around 8:30 and it's quite literally in the middle of the desert. We put our stuff down in our tents. Boys on one side and girls on the other. Outlets were scarce, but all good. There are lights but it's pretty primal. We picked out our mats and sleeping bags from the night to sleep. Then we got dinner, which was very delicious. It was traditional Bedouin food, some sort of meat over rice with some veggies and hummus. After dinner, a Bedouin tribal leader spoke to us. It was difficult to hear him, but interesting nonetheless. Then we went out behind the tents to stare up at the sky and reflect. It was really nice to be outside in the desert and there was a full moon. Anyone who wanted to shared their reflections which was nice to hear. I spoke about how it's ironic that we all go to Binghamton, but we had to come all the way to Israel to become so close. Then we walked back down to the tents and spent the rest of the night hanging out and singing songs. It was another awesome day!

Day 7: Tel Avi, Ya Chabibi Tel Aviv!

 Woke up today at 8 and we had to pack up all our stuff because we were leaving the hotel. Then we got breakfast. I had delicious shakshuka and potatoes. Then we got on the bus to head to Tel Aviv. The Rabbi told a really great story about Eddie Jacobson. He was Harry Truman's friend who convinced him to meet with this leader of the Jewish community to get to the US to support the Israeli state at the UN in 1948. He talked about how Eddie was Jewish and it was his duty to help because him and Truman were friends since they were young. Then we got to Tel Aviv! We got an awesome tour of the city. Ariel told us about a couple of famous people in Israel's history. One guy who became a real estate agent because he could throw super far and the distance you could throw is how much land you could buy. We learned about this guy who is on the 50 shekel bill. He won the Nobel Prize. 13% of Nobel Laureate Prize winners are Jewish. We learned about a couple of other famous people in Israeli history too. Also, our soldiers showed us some cultural things about Isreal. Stuff like hitting on girls (Guy and Eyal), the male Beyoncé of Israel, who is Shlomo Artsie (Iddo), Israeli TV shows (Arden). Then we went to lunch at Serona Market (Israeli version of Chelsea market). I ate this sausage thing. Nice to get that in Israel lol. Then we went to a flea market in Tel Aviv and just walked around. The stuff was very antique like and cool. We were there for about an hour. Then we went to the Jaffa look out which had an incredible view and we sad goodbye to the soldiers. It was very sad, but lots of laughs. There was an American who spoke for each of the soldiers. I spoke about clean shaven Iddo and I told a story about how he new all the words to an NWA song and how surprised Sam and I were when he started rapping. I thanked him for being so open and awesome to us and answering all our questions. Then all the soldiers said a few words and it was time to say goodbye. On the way back to the bus I came up to the Rabbi to say hi, but I came up from behind and I saw on his phone that he was on urban dictionary looking up the word "tripping" which was hilarious. I then shouted out to the group about it and he tried to cover my mouth, but everyone had a really great laugh about it. Including him. He's the man. Then we got back on the bus and went to the hotel and we got there at about 6:40. For dinner I had, chicken, rice, couscous, and this veggi thing that was good. Then we showered and were ready to be on the bus by 8. We then took the bus to Tel Aviv which was only an hour away We had a blast and definitely drank up. Then we went to the city of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was a lot of fun. We went to a couple bars and we were having a great time dancing and singing. Then we got on the bus home and the party didn't stop. We were singing and dancing the whole way home! Then we got back to the hotel and people hung out for a bit and there may have been some late night swimming.

Day 6: Shabbat Encounters

Shabbat Shalom! Saturday morning, I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany the rabbi and a few other participants to an optional minyan service at a local Chabad. The service was actually in someone's home, so it was incredible to see how welcoming the locals are. Knowing that I can travel to the other side of the world and have someone welcome me into their home because we share a religion has been one of the most eye opening parts of this trip. It was my first time in a gender separated service, which also served as a unique learning experience. After some free time at the hotel, we explored the city of Jerusalem and had the incredible chance to have lunch for Shabbat in the homes of some local residents. Again, the fact that complete strangers would be willing to allow us into their homes based on our shared religion was an amazing feeling.


After lunch, we had a program called "Stump the Rabbi", where we had the chance to ask our amazing staff member and Binghamton Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Slonim, whatever burning questions about Judaism (and some about his personal life) that we were dying to have answered. Questions ranged from Judaism's stance on tattoos, to why there were so many names for God in our religion. The Rabbi was happy to answer all our questions, and it was truly enlightening to learn more about Judaism's stance on several modern topics that affect our everyday lives.


After a Havdallah service to close out Shabbat, we spent the night shopping and dancing on Ben-Yehuda Street, one of the most lively streets that I've seen not just in Israel, but ever. There were belly dancers performing in the middle of the street, late night falafel restaurants opened until the wee hours of the morning, and a strip of night clubs that gave us a real taste of Israeli culture and dancing. 


Even though it happens every week at almost the same exact time, Shabbat is one of the most special holidays in Judaism. From being welcomed into someone's home to getting to witness the culture that comes with closing out this sacred holiday, Saturday was an eye-opening experience. Friday night, we walked about an hour from the Western Wall back to the hotel instead of driving, in order to keep the Sabbath. The streets were pretty much empty, every single store was closed, and there were almost no vehicles being driven in sight. Flash to Saturday night, where we saw the city come to life right before our eyes. This contrast is what makes Jerusalem and all of Israel so special- being able to have two completely different, yet educational and inspiring experiences within around 24 hours of each other. 

Day 5: Jerusalem, part 2

Jerusalem. The holiest city on earth for the Jewish people. Each week, thousands of Jews from across the globe gather in this sacred city to celebrate the weekly ritual of Shabbat. And this past week, Mayanot 205 had the special opportunity to be a part of that. But not before we had an equally unique opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as Mount Herzl, which serves as the cemetery for those who were lost during their service for the Israeli Defense Forces. 

On the way in to Yad Vashem, we had a chance to learn about the children's memorial, which was donated by Abe and Edita Spiegel, a Jewish couple who settled in California after they lost their two year old son, Uziel, in the Holocaust, but managed to survive themselves. One unique feature of this part of the memorial are the several stone towers. all of which appear to be cut unevenly at the top to reflect the fact that these children's lives were cut short upon perishing in the Holocaust. Another interesting feature of the memorial is the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles. Part of what made the survival of the Jewish people possible was the work of non-Jews who did everything in their power to save their Jewish peers. Without the work of these brave people, including Oscar Schindler whose memorial we got to see, our people would have perished at an alarmingly higher rate. 


The first thing you notice about Yad Vashem is the unique architecture of the building. Not only is it built underground to further reflect our people's struggle during the Holocaust, it is in the shape of a triangle to represent the Star of David. The museum is in one straight path that could be walked in about thirty seconds if not for the barriers that run from side to side and lead you from room to room to learn about the Holocaust in chronological order. We began our tour by watching some footage of Jews in Europe going about their everyday lives before Hitler came to power. Doing simple things such as going for walks or reading from a prayer book. It's so important to understand that these people lived normal lives, until little by little these simple freedoms were stripped from them. This part of the museum is on carpet in order to represent the luxury of freedom that we so often take for granted. As you continue walking and learning about the beginnings of the Holocaust- laws prohibiting Jews from certain jobs, making Jewish prayer illegal, and the placement of the Jews in ghettos- the floor turns to concrete to represent the  harshness that their life was rapidly devolving into. Every artifact in the museum was authentic. It's one thing to learn about how Hitler ordered the banning of Communist and Jewish books, but another thing to actually see some of the books that would have been burned during this time. As someone who personally enjoys reading, it broke my heart to see something like this. But this was only the beginning. We later saw shoes recovered from death camps, wooden bunk beds where they slept, and actual train tracks that led to these camps.  Touching the same small bed that multiple grown men were forced to share for years at a time was heartbreaking, but it's so important to continue to experience these things so that we can educate future generations who will never get the chance to hear first-hand from a survivor. The last room of the museum is circular and contains hundreds of shelves that hold millions of folders, each one dedicated to one survivor. This room is incomplete, as over a million names are still unaccounted for. The middle of the room is essentially a giant hole with water at the bottom, that contains the reflections of hundreds of pictures of survivors that hang on the walls. The tour ends by walking out of the doors on a carpet ground, to once again represent the luxury of freedom that the Jews who survived would come to achieve. 

One thing our tour guide encouraged us to do is remember just one name, rather than group the six million Jews that we lost, as Hitler had hoped to do. He hoped to erase their identities by stripping them of their names, clothing and hair. But we need to remember the individual names, the unique faces, and the distinguishing personalities of each person to best honor their lives, as well as their deaths. 

The emotional day continued when we visited Mount Herzl, the burial site of Israeli soldiers lost during their time in the IDF. Having eight Israeli soldiers on our trip, many of whom shared their own experiences in the army, made the tour even more emotional. Seeing the headstones of people buried there who were my age or even younger sent shivers down my spine. The sacrifices that these young men and women make is too enormous to even try to begin to comprehend, but if it wasn't for their dedication, we wouldn't have a Jewish state on the other side of the world to call home.


Going into Shabbat, I expected to take part in a very religious ceremony at the Kotel. However, while on the women's side of the wall we danced, sang and screamed at the top of our lungs to bring in this beautiful holiday. We each had the chance to pray individually at the wall. In my opinion, this is one of the coolest things about Judaism- getting to have a personal relationship with Hashem that doesn't require a third person to convey the message. We get to choose how much we want Judaism to be a part of our lives, and we get to dictate what our relationship with God will be like. Getting to connect directly with the Lord while praying at the holiest place on earth is something I will never forget.

While touring Yad Vashem, I had the opportunity to explore on my own for a few moments. I watched a short video featuring two men who were teenagers during the Holocaust, describing their traumatic experiences living in the ghettos of Europe. These men went into detail about all the things they did in secrecy just to keep their Jewish faith alive, including creating a makeshift "challah" and "chicken" out of potatoes for Shabbat dinner, wrapping homemade tefillin, and having a Bar-Mitzvah in secrecy, because this young adult was so eager to read from the Torah. These are things that most, if not all, of us are guilty of taking for granted. But on this particular Shabbat, we got to have an incredible dinner at our luxurious hotel after saying the Shabbat prayers, the men had the opportunity to wrap tefillin at the Western wall, and earlier in the week, six of our participants became Bar or Bat Mitzvah's during an emotional ceremony at the Kotel. These are things that we are able to do thanks to the sacrifices of our ancestors, who did everything they could to keep these traditions alive whilst facing the most treacherous evil known to man. These are things I will never take for granted again.

Day 4: J-E-R-U-SAM

Today we left our hotel in Tiberias and took the three hour-long bus ride to Jerusalem. We stopped along the way in the West Bank at a convenience store and rest stop, which was interesting since there's so much conflict and tension surrounding the area. After the stop, we continued to Jerusalem and listened to the song "Jerusalem" many times to get in the spirit of the city. We all screamed the lyrics, "Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from my tongue. Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do." Before we entered the city, Ariel instructed us to close the shades to the windows on the bus until we entered the city. When we entered Jerusalem, we all opened the shades at the same time and "Jerusalem" played loudly on the bus. The view of the city from the bus was absolutely surreal -- it was something I had only previously seen in photos, and after seeing it for myself today, I know that photos can never do it justice. 

The first part of Jerusalem we toured was the Jewish Quarter, where Ariel taught us about the history of Jerusalem while simultaneously sharing his own personal love story with new plot twists at every location we visited throughout the day. At every stop on the tour, he left both of the stories with cliffhangers, only to be continued at the next stop. His telling of two incredible love stories demonstrated that one's love for Jerusalem can be just as powerful and parallel to one's love for another person. 

After touring the Jewish Quarter, we had some free time for lunch and most of us got shawarma -- a classic that was too good to pass up. Finally, after lunch, it was time to visit the Kotel. Many of us took part in the custom of preparing handwritten notes to leave in the cracks of the wall as messages to Hashem. My first view of the Kotel was also surreal, just as my first view of the city was. It was an amazing and extremely comforting feeling to know that we were all finally home. 

After some personal reflection at the Kotel, we celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs of some of our fellow travelers. Sam, Alex, Rachel, Mike, Nicole and Brett all celebrated this incredible rite of passage at the Kotel, which was truly an honor in itself. They all prepared beautiful speeches and reflections on what this occasion meant to them and why they chose to celebrate at this point in their lives. After they spoke, their close friends also spoke a few words of love, encouragement and deep pride on this momentous occasion. Everyone was emotional, as we all realized how beautiful this simcha really was. We continued the celebration right outside the wall, customarily lifting them up in chairs and singing Hebrew songs to celebrate. We even broke out into a Horah -- what would a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah be without one?

Finally, after celebrating and reflecting at the Kotel, we visited the City of David and Hezekiah's Tunnel. We were given a great explanation of the story of King Solomon complete with actors, costumes and lots of olive oil. We made our way down to the tunnel and used our flashlights as we first dipped our feet into the cold water flowing through. However, after a few minutes, we all turned off our flashlights and navigated our way through the tunnel in complete darkness in order to replicate the way in which our ancestors worked the tunnels. Although it was scary at times to be in complete darkness, it was a lot of fun and exciting overall. 

Following City of David we headed to the hotel for an Israel Update by Neil Lazrus, dinner, Gift of Life bone marrow swabbing and preparations for Friday.

We certainly had a full first day in Jerusalem. It was extremely meaningful and beautiful. I know we are all anxiously awaiting what else lies ahead in this incredible city. 






Day 3: ATV's, Syrian/ Lebanese border and Rafting down the Jordan River

 Our second full day was full of adventure! We started our day with a gorgeous breakfast spread at our hotel to get energy before activities began. After getting on the bus with full bellies, we met our Israeli soldiers who we welcomed with songs and open arms. We can't wait to hang out with them and learn from them over the next week!!




A short bus ride lead us to a kibbutz where we formed small groups and rode ATVs through dirt roads of the Golan heights. As we laughed, chatted, and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery, we got a glimpse the Israeli environment we were blown away by. We cooled off in the refreshing water nearby before getting on the bus to head to our next activity. 

After stopping for a delicious lunch we headed towards the boarder of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The panoramic views of this important geographical location were only topped by the intelligent and unique political conversation we had with our site guide.

Off to the Jordan River we went!! Our afternoon and early evening spent rafting on the Jordan River was full of gorgeous weather, deep conversations, genuine laughs and relaxing moments. Although we enjoyed this activity so much, the whole group couldn't wait to arrive at the hotel for another delicious Mediterranean dinner! 

As we get ready to begin our first night activity with our Israeli soldiers, we can all agree that we feel so thankful to be traveling through our homeland while exploring Judaism with the greatest birthright group to ever exist!!

Day 2: Report from the field

The start of our first full day in Israel began with breakfast and a beautiful bus ride to Mount Arbel, following a quick stop at one of the ancient synagogues in the land of Israel, holding the oldest known charity box archaeologists have ever discovered! The hike entailed climbing both up mountain sides and down cliffs with a summit of 1292 feet. After a quick lesson on Israeli bartering, a trip to the beautiful holy city of Tzfat involved a gender-specific tour of the Tzfat Mikveh Learning Center, as well as tours of the ancient synagogues throughout the city. Finally we ended our visit in tzfat with an informative Judaic talk regarding the Kabbalah and the true spirituality of the Jewish religion for the past 4000 years. The first full day in Israel concluded with a much needed meal at the hotel and a beautiful night-time boardwalk experience in the city of Tiberius. 


Besides the views and the exercise, the overall experience was breathtaking and informative. We learned about ancient Rabbis and scratched the surface of the true spirituality of the Jewish religion. From dipping in the Mikveh to enjoying crepes in the holy city, we started to come together through shared experiences, and have began to develop patience through the beauty and knowledge the land of Israel provides. Personally, I've discovered that I am truly interested in the Kabbalah. I hope to learn as much as I can throughout this trip, and I look forward to learning further about spirituality in the future. 



Day 1: Travelers, not tourists; From Newark Airport to the Aqueducts

Although our trip started off with major delays that left us in the airport for nearly 10 hours, our first day definitely made up for all the setbacks. As soon as we got off the plane and changed into more weather-appropriate clothing, we met up with our guides, Ariel and Batsheva. They gave us a warm welcome to Israel and made sure our energy stayed high even though we were exhausted from the journey. The delays made it impossible to fit in all of the planned activities, but we still had a memorable experience at Caesarea. Ariel gave us his rendition of Jewish history complete with his guitar skills and original lyrics. We made a toast and said "l'chayim!" as we acknowledged that we had come full circle, standing in the same place our ancestors were in when they were forced out of Israel. After that enlightening experience, we were finally able to relax, have dinner and do some more group activities to get to know each other. 

If our first day in Israel is any indication of what is to come, I cannot contain my excitement. I've loved starting to get to know everyone and learning about this beautiful place. I know that the next 10 days will be life-changing and packed with fun and excitement no matter what we do or see. And most importantly, we will strive to be travelers -- not tourists. 


Stay tuned...

Stay tuned for daily photos, videos and personal reflections of our adventures. It all goes down at Newark Airport on Sunday, June 4th as we embark on this very special trip of a lifetime.

Getting ready!


Participants of Mayanot 205 pose for a group selfie following the orientation at Chabad of Binghamton getting ready for their 10 day trip of a lifetime!

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