Some people might ask, why Israel? Well, being a girl who LOVES to travel I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go on a practically free trip. For those of you who don’t know Israel has a program called Birthright (Taglit) that sends ANYONE with a Jewish background to Israel for basically nothing. They cover flight, 2 meals a day, accommodations, and transportation. You don’t even have to be a “practicing” Jew. Many people on my trip even considered themselves more Catholic than Jewish but had one Jewish parent, making them eligible. Birthright Israel is designed so people 18-26 can discover their Jewish identity and feel connected to the land where they’re ancestors once came from. They accomplish this by designing a jam-packed 10-day itinerary that gives you a taste of Israel’s culture, history, and everyday life. Although all the Birthright trips are designed a little different, I thought I would share a little about what we did for anyone looking to go on Birthright or just travel to Israel in general!
10 Day Itinerary:
Day 1: We started in the northern part of Israel visiting the caesarian aqueduct, a national park, and a winery. The aqueduct is an important part of Jewish history because it’s the port where our Jewish ancestors would have left after being kicked out in Israel. So going back to this location is supposed to represent the completion of Zionism or the return to Israel for the Jewish people, making it the perfect spot to start our trip and our journey through Israel!
Day 2: Tzfat, also known as the old city is one of the more religious cities in Israel and was one of my favorite parts of the trip. In Tzfat we delved into our Jewish history and talked more about the religious practices that still exist today. This included going to a Mikvah, a bath used to achieve ritual purity, and a local artist who taught us about the study of Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). I loved Tzfat for many reasons, one being it is the perfect city to wander through! One turn down any of the many cobblestone streets lead you to discover something new and unexpected. In addition to the rich history and mystic charm, another perk of Tzfat is the ice cream! If you’re an ice cream fanatic or just looking for something sweet Taste of Tzfat has the creamiest Cookies and Cream and a must-try in my opinion! Also, the mint chip seemed to be a fan favorite but it was too minty for my taste! Overall, the main reason Tzfat is one of my favorite parts of the trip was that there were so many hidden alleys to explore and it offered the perfect taste of historic Israel and perspective on Jewish life.
Day 3: ATVing and Golan Heights! If you’re looking for an exhilarating experience going ATVing on Israel’s rough terrain is sure to give you one! At Golan Heights, we discussed some of the struggles that Israel has been through while overlooking the Syrian border, giving us a real perspective on the past and present struggles of Israel.
Day 4: The Holy City of Jerusalem! Our first day in Jerusalem (we were there for 2) consisted of touring the old city and praying at the western wall. During our tour of the old city, we explored ancient ruins and learned about the history of Jerusalem. A popular custom at the wall is to write a note with a prayer and stick the note in the cracks. We were very lucky and got to visit the wall both during the day and night which yielded a COMPLETELY different experience. Although it may be adequate for women to wear pants during the day, wearing a long skirt is a MUST at night! If you are in Jerusalem and able to go to the wall during both the day and night I definitely recommend it. During the daytime, everyone was quiet to be respectful of those coming to the wall to pray and then at night, the city comes alive and everyone is jumping around singing and dancing celebrating the start of Shabbat. Also, the view overlooking the city was spectacular at night and offered the most calming ambiance.
Day 5: Our second day in Jerusalem happened to be a Saturday which is a day of rest in the Jewish religion known as Shabbat. On Shabbat driving and really doing anything that involves work is prohibited. We were very fortunate that Birthright set it up so we could spend the day with a host family to give us an authentic feel for what Shabbat is like in Israel compared to America. This experience was extremely unique and enabled me to feel connected with the Israeli culture and Judaism. To mark the end of Shabbat we lit candles, which is custom in the Jewish religion to do at both the start and end of Shabbat. Once the day of rest was officially over went to Mahane Yehuda for dinner and a fun night out! I can not explain how much I loved this market, simply to say this was my favorite part of the trip is an understatement! This market offered a variety of food vendors and bars to choose from and trust me when I say this market really comes alive at night! It is the perfect place to enjoy the Israeli flavors, colors, and vibrant atmosphere.
Day 6: Our 6th day in Israel we went to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum) and Mount Hertzel (were soldiers who were lost serving in the IDF). This was obviously a more emotionally heavy day but I’m grateful for the experience because it offered perspective on the hardship that Jews and Israeli’s have been going through.
Day 7: “Tel Aviv ya Habibi Tel Aviv”!! Israel’s most popular city and metropolitan area, Tel Aviv is known for its nightlife, street art, outdoor markets, and beaches. Having only one full day in Tel Aviv we tried to cram in as much as possible. It being December made it a little easier because it was too cold to go to the beaches so we spent the day touring the cities vibrant street art and shopping in outdoor markets. The first market we went to was Shuk Ha’Carmel or Carmel Market. From what I’ve read Carmel is so popular because of the amazing food and boutique stalls. However, I found it to be more produce centered than anything else. For this reason, I definitely preferred the Mechane Yuda market for eating and getting a taste of Israeli food! Despite Carmel not being what I expected, I still enjoyed the outdoor market vibe and getting the chance to sample some of the delicious produce! Some places offer samples and if you find them I recommend trying the halva, cheese, and of course the candy! The second market we went to in Tel Aviv was Jaffa’s flea market which was strictly souvenirs rather than food. At Jaffa’s, we spent about an hour browsing through all the really cool antiques, jewelry, and vintage clothing before heading back on the road.
Day 8: We slept in a tent… yes, I said a tent. On our 8th day in Israel, we experienced what it was like to live in a Beduin community by sleeping in the desert of southern Israel. Dinner was a cool experience, as we sat on the floor with pillows while eating an authentic Beduin community meal. If I could compare it to anything it kinda reminded me of what you see in Japanese homes. After dinner, we spent time reflecting under the stars and enjoying an authentic campfire experience singing songs and roasting marshmallows.
Day 9: We woke up early in the morning to ride camels around the desert before we were back on the road up north to climb Masada and swim in the Dead Sea! Which is called the Dead Sea because it’s so salty that nothing can actually live in it.
Day 10: Home!
Thank you Birthright Israel #Mayanot58 ♥