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Shalom from Eretz Yisrael!

The first plane ride to Newark was a bumpy one. Many of us became motion-sick. Thanks to Jennifer’s no-side-effect-miracle-cure, we were feeling a bit better for the delayed longer flight into Tel Aviv.

We thought arriving in Israel would be simple; however, our more spunky Rubin-ite (ha!) Jimmy was delayed in customs. Actually, he was taken to a room and interrogated for about a half hour. We may have been more scared than he was! Another mishap was that Alan’s bag was accidentally taken by a passenger. It was just around the time that Jimmy was released (I mean, cleared) that Alan’s luggage was returned.

DAY ONE

Our driver: Elior. Our guide: Amir. Our theme: Judaism as a nationality and Leadership in the Wilderness.

Amir talked to us about there being more than one way to be Jewish. Nation v. Religion. Nation–connecting to the land. Religion–connecting to G-d. Our first stop directly from the flight was to Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve.

Neot Kedumim is a living museum of Israel’s green archeology. In addition to growing the various biblical plants, Neot Kedumim embodies the panorama and power of landscapes that helped shape the values of the Bibles. It draws on Bible scholarship, botany, zoology, history and archeology.

We participated in two activities before enjoying a delicious, Middle-Eastern lunch.

The first was leading a flock of sheep and goats. Much to Rob’s dismay, these were REAL sheep and goats! Our challenge was to lead a small group of these animals from circle to circle. Not as easy as it sounds! Then we had to separate the sheep from the goats and lead them to different circles. Team 1 was successful thanks to the leadership if Jimmy and Alan. They were amazing! Team 2 started off strong but quickly went down the hill!

Next we did an activity focusing on communication using four ropes on a pulley. The goal was to hook a bucket and lower it into a cistern. The trick? The leader (David) could not talk. Each rope had two participants–one blindfolded and one who gave verbal direction based on the hand signals from David. The group was AMAZING!

As tired and exhausted as we were…it was off to Jerusalem to the Machane Yehuda. It is the largest and busiest open-air market in Israel. People were busy buying items before Shabbat. The colors, the smells, the people…wow! Alan bought the group a treat to taste on the way to the hotel.

We finally checked into the hotel, had just a few minutes to place our things in our rooms and then we were off to Ha Kotel Ha’Ma’aravi just in time to welcome Shabbat. We made Kiddish then had about 20 minutes to visit the wall. The men’s side was loud, joyous and there was dancing. The women’s side had lots of young girls and women, praying individually and groups making social connections. It was surreal to be there–surrounded by Jews–at THE WALL.

Everyone except Margo and Aliyah (a Federation staff person who joined us at the Wall) walked back to the hotel to begin the evening program lead by Jonty Blackman. Rob, Rachel and Kimber somehow became disconnected from the group and got lost in the Arab quarter. Thanks to Rob’s high-end-retail-navigation system, we finally made it back to the hotel! The weather was beautiful and one couldn’t ask for better scenery within which to be lost.

Jonty and his wife, Abbey, are down to Earth and engaging people. We reflected on our Western Wall experience and discussed welcoming the Sabbath bride. We were joined by two lone soldiers, one of whom was Danny. He participated in last year’s group. He is originally from Florida but came to Israel to serve in the army. In his early 20’s, he just finished his duty and is in medical school.

Last activity of the evening–Shabbat dinner! To the basement of the hotel we went for a delicious buffet-style Israeli Shabbat dinner. De-licious! It was David’s 35th birthday so we all sang to him, enjoyed cake and gave his a small gift before going off to bed.

It was a long day. We were exhausted!

You can view pictures from Day One: CLICK HERE

Enjoy and further updates tomorrow…as it is almost 1 a.m. right now!