Thursday, March 3, 2016

Watching them soar!

As an educator, one of the best parts of my job is when students become the teachers.  Even better is when those students are teaching teachers.  I've seen this several times in my career thus far, from my students presenting at MACUL last year, to students presenting at district events.  Every single time I feel like a proud parent!

This past week, I experienced this again, but from a different perspective.  Mercy High School hosted their 3rd annual Tech Talk last week, a day filled with different sessions on technology in education from all angles.  I presented a session on how an iPad can become a teacher's best friend, and how to integrate technology into all areas of the school day.  My colleague, Trevett Allen, who is the director of the Innovation Hub, also presented.  He had a two hour session in the afternoon about collaboration using student expert teams.

And experts did he bring with him.

Watching the eighth graders, and two seventh grade apprentices walk into the building that afternoon, arms full of the resources they needed for their session, including one of the 3D printers, my heart swelled.  I was more excited to watch the kids present than I was for my own presentations.  And seeing the focus, determination, an excitement on their faces made it all the more exciting for me.

And I've only known these kids for six months.

But in those six months, I've been continuously amazed at what they are willing to try, to take on, to explore, to learn, to mess up, and to grow.  The shared their experiences with a level of poise and professionalism that I haven't seen in kids their age.  They prepared posters, props, and scripts.  They had activities planned and ready with supplies organized.  The organized the room to meet the needs of their presentation.  The seventh grade apprentices document the whole process.  And both Trevett and I sat there amazed.

When kids are given just enough freedom, just enough ownership, and just the right amount of support, it's astounding how high they can soar!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not You're Mama's Caesar....

Recently, the 8th graders spent some time with Julius Caesar.  They read the whole story, cover to cover (which is more I can say for myself!) and developed close relationships with the characters.  So close, in fact, that their culminating project found them embodying the characters in a rather unique situation.....

with some very unique sponsors....

The neatest part of the unit is that the students shared their videos and podcasts with local members of SAG, and providing an authentic audience with which to share their learning.  Great things happen at Hillel!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Departures and Arrivals II

Departing is such sweet sorrow.... Unless you're dealing with the airlines!

Seriously, though. Despite the airlines messing up our reservations AGAIN, we had a smooth flight from Tel Aviv to Paris.  I happily slept through what smelled like a fairly unappetizing breakfast before succumbing to the fact that two hours of sleep was all I'd be getting.  The Paris macaroons were gorgeous!  I mean, the Paris croissants were amazing!  The Paris airport was beautiful!  They had these living walls throughout the terminal that were filled with lush green foliage. And did I mention the croissants?!  (My body is so stoked that it will once again be gluten free now that I'm home!)

There were these really neat pods for listening to music, several different video game kiosks, two adorable kids play areas, and tons of high end shopping. We spent the first three hours of our layover relaxing in these funky chairs and lounge couches before heading to the gate.  I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't. I was way too excited about the fact that I'd be home with Sparky in 14 hours or less.  It has was a WonderFULL trip, but a long time to be gone. 

The Paris to Detroit flight was l-o-n-g, but at least there were good movies and I had an outlet to plug my devices into. Lunch was interesting.  Curried chicken.  Thankfully, I brought a croissant with me!  I watched some more episodes of the Goldbergs, the Minons movie, The Pianist, and Pitch Perfect Two.  I played Minecraft most of the way home since for some reason, even being awake that long, naps were hard to come by.

Baggage, customs, all that crud went fine, and surprisingly quick!  Our driver was prompt and we loaded into hiss warm car. I literally dragged my bags upstairs, took the quickest shower of my life (yep, felt that gross from 22 hours of travel) and went straight to pick up Sparky and see my niece. My original goal was to make it till 7:30, but considering it's 6:20 and I can hardly keep my eyes open?  Good night world!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Israel Day 9: Farewell Tel Aviv

Our final morning of the trip, wrapping up an unforgettable adventure.  Today was a slow morning, a natural wind down to an over-stuffed week. My sister stayed with us last night, and was up by sunrise and out roller-blading along the beach before I was even awake. By the time she got back, We were awake and almost packed. Check out had us leaving our room by noon, but thankfully the Kellert's room had a late check out and we left our luggage there before heading out for a walking tour of Tel Aviv.

My sister showed us several different neighborhoods, each with it's own unique style and feel. We saw a really neat water fountain in the style of Agam, as well as a massive mall, before ending up at a cute little restaurant for brunch. Well, at least it was supposed to be brunch. I had a Belgium waffle that was more like dessert, but, you know. 

We then visited Alenby street and Rothschild, two areas that are very popular in the city. We saw cute boutiques and shops that were closed for Shabbat. I marvel at how everything slows down on Saturdays in Israel. Things stop in Jerusalem, but they sure slow down a ton in Tel Aviv, too. From there, we headed back to the hotel to just relax. It's been a whirlwind the last nine days, and as fun as it was, I am for sure ready for home. 

Sunset found us on the beach, enjoying one last dose of sand and sea.  Dinner was right next to the hotel, a cross between American and Israeli, nothing overly spectacular. We were all kind feeling a mix of everything- anxious to go home sad to leave, annoyed with the airlines for messing things up again..... And savoring the wonders of our adventure. 

A 1:00am flight to Paris, a five hour layover, and a 1:30 arrival concludes this adventure. Adventure. Adventure made all the more sweeter knowing my pup is waiting for me!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Israel Day 8: Tel Aviv

It was so nice to wake up and not have to pack everything up!  Don't get me wrong, I've loved all that we've done and seen since arriving a little over a week ago, but these last three mornings where we had to be packed and out of the hotel by 9am at the latest has been tough. Since we are spending our last two nights in Tel Aviv, it was a relaxing wake up and go kinda morning!
This morning when we were all up and functioning, which was 9:30, we met up in the lobby and walked along the boardwalk to Old Jaffa for breakfast. We also wanted to check out the flea market and antique market there. Old Jaffa is the "old" part of Tel Aviv and had those beautiful old stone worked buildings and an incredible square with old shops and restaurants. 
After our (so not short) walk along the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean, we checked out the different options for breakfast. There were quite a few choices tucked away into these old stone buildings. After checking out all the menus, we settled on a place called Cassiopea, partially cause of the incredible view, partially cause of the menu. Considering we have been eating hotel breakfasts (read: identical) for the entire trip so far, it was a nice treat to eat elsewhere. And let me tell you, it was the best food yet!  Well, aside from the Shwarma. Everyone was thrilled with breakfast, so much in fact, that we made dinner reservations for the same place!
From there, we headed to the flea market. It was a bust. Ironically, it was filled with all sorts of American tzatchskies which none of us were interested in. So we headed to the antiques section. It wasn't anything to really write home about, and by that time, time was drawing short of we wanted to get to the artist market before it closed, so we took our first Israeli can and headed back toward the hotel area to check it out. 
That was an awesome market!  There were so many unique items, from prints and jewelry, to wire work and plush, it was really nice to spend time enjoying all the different artists. We even caught a bit of an accapella group singing!  Since the hotel was so close to the market, we walked back and readied to hit the beach. I mean, it's February and back home it's in the 40's and gross.  Even if it was only 60 and sunny we still would have beached it, just because!  Thankfully, it was actually quite nice and we enjoyed hanging out in the sand and chatting. 
At that point we were all pretty tired, so we headed back to the hotel to rest, change, and ready for dinner. My sister came in for the night, and the group had a nice little Shabbat in the lobby.  When our cabs arrived to take us back to Old Jaffa, we were ready!  Funny thing is, one cab got us straight there, while the other cab, which left before the one I was in, got there a good few minutes after we did!
Dinner was delish. Some very unique items on the menu, including a Dream Loaf, which was basically an entire loaf of challah stuffed with meat balls. From there we walked a bit and saw what used to be an old church, but now is basically home to bats. It was creepy to hear the, all and watch the, flying around, nut neat at the same time. It seems that in Israel, if an old building is empty, it isn't torn down, it waits to be repurposed. So different than back home. 

At this point the group split up, some of us (including me) headed back to the hotel, while others continued exploring the city under my sister's guidance. It has been a long and overstuffed week of amazing experiences!  Not sure what we will do in our final 24 hours to cap it all off!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Israel Day 7: Tiberias and Tzefat

A much needed late(ish) wake-up started this morning. That was followed by the best chocolate croissants yet!  Once we loaded up and hit the road at 9:00, we headed to Tzfat to visit the artist galleries. We took the senic route and along the way gathered more glimpses into the historical beauty that is Israel. We even made a brief stop in the city of Amuka which is the site of Rabbi Jonathan Ben Uziel is buried. Suposedly, his grave is the place you're supposed to go to when you want to find the one you will marry.  Women speak a prayer as they circle the sacred dome seven times, and legend has it, they will meet the one shortly after their visit.

Tzfat itself is surprisingly small.  There was a small courtyard mall along the street that had a few art galleries. What was unique about this court- Fig tree court - is that the court was a shambles until an American Jew bought that part of the street.  As he began renovating, a tangled, twisted fig tree was unearthed.  Amazingly, after light and air began reaching the old tree, life was breathed into the branches and new growth revived its leaves. 

We toured the galleries, which were filled with a variety of styles and mediums of pieces. We also visited two synagogues. One of them, called Abuhav, was actually closed to the public because of a Bar Mitzvah, we were able to visit thanks to our amazing guide.  We were directed immediately to the women's section, which gave us not only a beautiful view of the synagogue itself, but we also experienced a Sephardic Bar Mitzvah service!

From there, we headed to Pe'ing for our Druze hospitality lunch. While plans did not exactly work the way we anticipated, our tour guide saved the event! We didn't get a full Druze hospitality lunch in a Druze cave, but we did have a nice lunch and the restaurant owner was able to share the history of the Druze people as he is one. 

After that, I was excited as we headed to my sister's house. I've never seen any of the places she lived in Israel, and she's liked this house best, so I was excited to see her home. It,was way bigger than I thought, and decorated just the way my sister likes it. The gardens are beautiful, the neighborhood is quaint and I loved seeing my sister in her element. One of her Israeli grandparents brought over some delicious cheese cake bites his wife made for us, along with some fresh dates right from his tree. We sat and chatted and laughed and snacked on palmello and beets and enjoyed the time with my sister. 

(Picture coming soon!)

It was refreshing reaching the hotel tonight knowing that we wouldn't have to pack in the morning!  We ate a light dinner at a beach restaurant (and when I say beach, I mean right on the sand,) and walked back across the street (literally, right across the street!) to our adorable hotel. The hotel, called the Sea King, is a green hotel with some neat energy saving features such as lights that don't activate until you put your key in the key slot. We were all upgraded to suites, and the room is awesome!  Perfect place to wrap up our visit. 

Tomorrow brings out first day in Tel Avov, and the agenda calls for several different markets in the area. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Israel Day 6: Masada, the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi

4:21. That's what time my alarm went off this morning. Why, you might ask? Why would anyone want to get up *that* early on vacation?  I'll tell you why. Cause I'm a sucker for beauty. And in this case, beauty meant leaving the hotel at 4:50 this morning so we could be to the top of Masada in time to watch the sunrise.

In. Sane. We took the Snake Path to the top, beginning the climb at 5:30. Our guide, Amikam, started us off with some history and climbing tips before letting us go at our own pace. He brought up the rest. The rear happened to be me. This how was brutal. I went on one hike in California that was harder than this, but only because it was nearly three times as long. Despite the intensity of the elevation, we managed to make it to the top in only 45 minutes, three minutes before the most magnificant sunrise. 

Call me naive, call me ignorant, call me whatever you want, but I so did not realize there were ruins on Masada. I always thought you hiked to see the sunrise. I am SO glad I thought wrong! The fort ruins were un-be-lieve-able! More history seeped into my brain in that hour and a half long tour than all my history and Jewish studies classes combined. Ten times more. 

Clear as day, history came alive. We saw ancient several Mikva, the most incredible mosaic tile floors, and some unreal fresco walls that were as bright as they were when they were painted thousands of years ago. Everywhere we went there was a black line following us along the walls. Everything below the line was original stone and plaster work. Everything above the line was recreated in the original manner. There was a synagogue where original Torah were found. People hold Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah services there. And areas of the fortress are still being excavated today. 

What really amazed me is the amount of innovation, creativity, engineering, and even physics that have been in play for thousands of years. The way people brought water to the top of the fortress.... The Roman Ramp used to roll a battering ram to the top.... The ingenuity in the cisterns.... The whole place reeked of skills I dreaded learning as I went through school, but now so eagerly will continue to explore. 

After taking the cable car down (these legs were jelly) we headed back to the hotel for a soak in the Dead Sea. Ironically, the only place you could get Dead Sea mud was the gift shop. The water may have been cold, but this time I went in anyway. It was so cool! Literally and figuratively!  It was impossible to sink! I mastered the floating on my back and reading a book pose, but was unable to pull off the belly balance. The Dead Sea has receded drastically over the last forty years, and efforts are being made to prevent further loss of this ancient, healing wonder. Before we exited the Sea, we exfoliated (maybe a little too vigorously,) showered, and headed to the final destination for the day. 

Upon arriving at Ein Gedi, I groaned. Loudly. I knew it would be more walking, but I didn't think it would be more UPhill walking. Thankfully, we started at another ruins, this one uncovered within the last six years. It was a small ruins area, with small living quarters and a beautiful synagogue. I mean beautiful. It had a perfectly preserved mosaic floor, clearly showing where the bima and ark used to be. They have only just worked in one area of the ruins, and over the next years more will be excavated and preserved. 

The next leg of Ein Gedi, while filled with beauty, was a bit less enjoyable for me because it involved MORE hill hiking. I clearly heard my hamstrings crying with every uphill step. That said, I have never seen such beautiful waterfalls and natural beauty, especially considering it is in the middle of a desert. We also met an Israeli mammal called shevan.  It looked like a little ground hog, however, it's name is equivalent to the American term "chicken" which was rather funny, as one was less than a two feet away from me!  As we walked past and in the waterfalls and streams, we also saw monks caves and burial caves carved into the mountains. We, once again, we walking past history. 
Our day ended with dinner st Dex, a restaurant that came highly recommended by some of the Israeli teachers at school, as well as a few shop keepers we met in Israel. A long day with two hikes finally gave me a solid night of sleep with no wake-ups in between eyes-closed and morning light. Next up, we head to Tzfat and the Druze Hospitality lunch!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Israel Day 5: City of David, Kotel, and Camels

Today was our last day in Jerusalem. After breakfast, we met our tour guide, Amikam, who will be with us until Thursday eve when he drops us off in Tel Aviv. He is amazing! So much knowledge in one brain!

Our day started with loading up our suitcases and checking out of a hotel I never need visit again. We headed to the Kotel "complex" (best I can describe it!) and soaked in the breathtaking views.  Like, take your breath away views- Mt. Olives, Dome of the Rock, the expansive views of the old city... If we didn't have a time schedule to follow, I have a feeling that we could have enjoyed the views longer. 

Our first stop took us through the Jewish quarter into the plaza surrounding the Kotel. We headed, once again, to the holiest place in the Jewish world. This time we headed directly to the tunnel tours. The guide, while knowledgeable, was definitely not a teacher. We stood a little too long in the "set up" room where she gave us the basics. It felt like being stuck in a textbook, knowing the real learning lay just beyond the threshold only ten feet away. 

Once we got started, though, it was wordlessly incredible. We were underneath the Kotel. At one point, we were 90 feet from the Holy of Holies on Temple Mount, one of the most sacred places on the planet. The stones of the wall, more than a dozen feet below the earth's surface, were unreal. Each rock was meticulously placed into the wall, a chiseled frame, thousands of years ago....  We were literally walking through history, step by step.

We came out of the tunnel tour and headed to the Kotel, which meant so much more to me now than it did just three days prior. After spending some time connecting directly with the Wall, we tres the rest of the grounds. The ruins, remains of the temples, evidence of worlds past, lay scattered throughout, traces of worlds that until now, made no sense, or had any impact, on my life. 

I know some won't agree with my perspective, but that's ok. As our guide pointed out markings in the stones, he drew our attention to a platform near the wall with a few umbrellas scattered about. This section, he explained, opened just one week prior. Up until then, the Kotel was strictly divided into two sections- a large section for men and a smaller section for women. Families had to separate to pray. Now, though smaller than the women's side, a new section of the Wall was opened for any gender. Families, couples, anyone can pray there. Sure, it's a small section not ideally located, but it's a monumental event. The egalitarian section is not yet complete, but at least it is open and available, a fear decades and decades in the making. 

After we marveled at the Kotel, we headed to the City of David and toured the surrounding ruins. They were spectacular. Seriously spectacular!  I mean, we were walking under what only five years prior was buried under a parking lot!  The ruins showed so much detail of homes and buildings, we even saw remnants of mosaic floors in excellent shape. 

I was a bit apprehensive as we headed into the newly uncovered tunnels near the city, as they were incredibly narrow and slick in spots. The green moss on the walls were kinda gross too. Yet, even with my OCD, I was still mesmerized. The city itself was fascinating, but what was revealed via the tunnels was even more mind boggling. I mean, this place, Israel, while not an officially recognized country until 1948, holds so much history that more is being uncovered every year!

We exited the tours through the Jewish quarter and grabbed a quick bite to eat and one more glance at the Cardo before heading back to our van and started the journey to Eretz Bereshit, a few hours away. This was something I was both excited about and dreading. 

I was excited about enjoying a hospitality meal hosted by Avraham and I was excited to see a camel. However, I was far less than excited to put on the attire of the era and sit on the floor for dinner. You know what? Even the things I was kinda sorta dreading turned out to me manageable. Making big progress on this surviving things that feel insurmountable on this trip, let's hope it continues when I get home. 

Setting the alarm for 4:21am tonight as we are tackling Madada at sunrise tomorrow. Love the hotel we are staying in for the night- clean and beautiful and clean!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Israel Day 4: Frankel and Yad Vashem

This morning we returned to the Frankel school for another visit. This was way unique in the sense that we were there during a country-wide pre-planned emergency drill. I'm talking IDF members there to assess everything as kids and staff alike made their way to the basement bomb shelter.

Bomb shelter. Yes. You read that right. While we have fire drills, tornado drills, and lock down drills, schools in Israel have bomb shelter drills. Let me tell you- when in the classroom, my students were generally well behaved during drills. These kids? They knew exactly what to do and did so without printing. 

When we asked the principal about it, she explained that while we practice lock downs and fire drills, our kids have never experienced an emergency situation like that. For the kids in Israel, though, this is part of their world. She further explained that a few years back, they had three actually emergency situations where the school had to spend an extended period of time in the shelter.....

From Frankel, we headed to Yad Vashem. We scheduled the timing so that there would be enough time to get lunch from the Yad Vashem cafeteria before our tour began. Yad Vashem is on the same grounds as Herzl museum, which was a beautiful place to explore. And while Yad Vashem was beautiful, it was hauntingly so. 

The museum has only been units current building for ten years. Prior to that it was on the grounds in a different location. The building itself is a triangle, one half of the Star of David. The layout is such that you must weave back and forth through the entire unfathomable story until you end up in the Hall of Names. 

Jackie, our tour guide, was wonderful. He shared such insight on what I see as the greatest tragedy of the century. It was eerie walking through the rooms, knowing that every si for artifact was real, an original, fund or donated by a survivor or their family or those researching. Every artifact but one. And despite the heart wrenching sadness in the museum, it wasn't until we stood in front of the Auswchwitz arch, the one that translates to "work will set you free" that tears fu ally leaked. And when we entered the Hall of Names, looking around at the faces and the testimonials maintained the welling over of tears in my eyes. When we get home I will look to see if my uncle is in the Hall of Names, and if he isn't, I will see how I can help my cousin, his granddaughter, make it happen while he is still alive to see it. 

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all quite spent. A brief rest before the evening, where we all wrapped up our last night in Jerusalem picking up any souvenir requests, sweet treats, and of course, shawarma on Ben Yehuda street before tucking in and packing up in preparation for tomorrow's adventure!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Israel Day 3: Frankel and Begin

Today was our earliest day of the trip so far. The only other early day we have is Masada, when we will be hiking before sunrise.  Today we spent most of our time visiting the Frankel School (I'll add the link when I get to my computer at home) in Jerusalem. The school is a first through sixth grade facility serving about 250 pupils. There is also a pre-school and kindergarten on the grounds.

It was fascinating getting a glimpse into an Israeli school! We noticed right away that kids are kids, no matter where they live or what language they speak! The principal, Dalia, went out of her way to welcome us into her school. She has been the principal there for six years and she speaks of the children as if they were her own. Everyone we met was very nice and greeted us with a smile- the hello that transcends languages!

We first saw a third grade music class, before heading to a third grade language class. The principal explained that most children eat breakfast at five or six in the morning and so the school implemented a 15 minute brunch time at 9:00. From there, the students had a lesson that included a brief video, some partner work, and brief role playing or sorts. It was challenging for us to follow exactly what was happening as very few people spoke English!

From there, the kids had a 15 minute recess which gave us some time to speak with Dalia, and the school English teacher, Donna. First, I have to say, recess was so organized! It was as if the kids picked am activity location (the playground had 6-7 distinct zones) and stays there for the duration. After recess, Donna took us around to a few more classes, and as she is fluent in Enflish, she was able to explain ,ore of what was happening. 

We saw a group of fourth graders practice a song for English day- a day they spend learning about different countries and doing so nearly all in English- which was awesome, since we all were able to sing along with them! I mean who doesn't know Hello Goodbye by the Beatles?!  The kids were working on the first verse and sounded adorable.  After singing, Dalia gave us a tour of the grounds. They have a really neat courtyard that used to be a dumping ground for everything trash.  Last year, the kids took it upon themselves to clean it up and beautify it with handmade sculptures and art. It was quite creative!

Our last class visit of the day was a creative design class.  It was basically a combination of art and Makerspace at Hiklel. The kids, fifth graders, we're working on designing a new tea bag and tea cup.  They had sketches overflowing in their sketchbooks, not just for this project, but for many others they've done throughout the year!  Donna had one of the students who is strong in English explain what the students were doing. Super creative. 

Dalia took us, Donna, and two other teachers to the Begin museum after our time at the school. She treated us to a delicious dairy lunch before we parted, and began our tour of the Begin Museum. I've never xperinced museums like this before- both the Herzl and Begin both were video based, moving us from room to room where artifacts supported the video documentary surrounding Begin. 
Sounds like a long day, right?  Except it didn't end there! We wrapped the day with a visit to Mamilla for some (window) shopping a dinner. I was fairly good with my shopping- only bought three scarves, something I had hoped to find as I love the Hoodie brand and it seems to be an Israel brand.  Dinner found us at a steakhouse and sushi place where the food was delish but the service left a lot of room for growth!  I was happy to fall into bed after this adventurous day, and grateful that I finally slept through the night!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Day 2: The Kotel and Ben Yehuda Street

Today was super special to me because my sister came to visit!  She also brought a friend who is from home and just happened to be in town for a few days. Ironically, he also happened to know three other people in our group! Small world!

We started with a much needed sleep in ish. I say ish because sleeping in means very different times to each person in the group!  For me, it meant sleeping till 9ish. After a Shabbat breakfast (read: all cold foods as the hotel is very Orthodox), Renee and I decided to give services a try. We walked down the block to a beautiful Orthodox synagogue with incredible stained glass and an expansive mezuzah collection in the lobby. I wish I had pictures, but out of respect for Shabbat, the pictures remain in my memory. 

It was fascinating to be inside the sanctuary- men were on the main floor, and women were two flights up in the balcony floor. Thankfully, the siddur they had offered both English and Hebrew choices. (Though it was kinda cool cause I could actually read the Hebrew, even if I still have no clue what it means!). Services were so different than I am used to. Most notably, there was a boy about six years old running all over the bima during th service. In fact, there were children of all ages haphazardly playing through the the synagogue during services, to a degree I haven't seen at home. 

After services, we all met back together in the lobby awaiting my sister's arrival. As it was Shabbat, there really isn't much to do in Jerusalem, everything is closed. Everything, that is, except the Kotel, which, lucky for us, was walking distance from our hotel. With Ellery as our guide, we made our way through the narrow Arab shopping ally and into the walls of the Kotel. It was quite breathtaking.   We were standing at the top of the stairs staring at thousands of years of history, only moments away from touching it. 

I can't quite explain the feeling of resting my hands on the wall, where people have placed their heads for generations and generations. I don't think that the feeling is describable. My sister stood next to me and together we read a few psalms before silently backing away from the majestic site. As much as the media in the states portrays the danger of being in Israel and especially in the areas surrounding the Westerm Wall, I felt completely safe. 

We left the wall and stopped at a nice little out door restaurant where we had the most delicious bread and salads and pastas. It was, we thought, a lunch much better than what we would have had at the hotel!  From, there, we headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, talking, and snacking on the delicious fruits and pastries we picked up while at the Shuk yesterday. As the sun set and Shabbat ended, my sister and Nate said their goodbyes and headed back to Tel Aviv while we headed inside to change into warmer clothes before we walked down to Ben Yehuda street. 

It was so cool to see that when we arrived on Ben Yehuda, which was only a few blocks from the hotel, only a few businesses were open, but by the time we left around 9:30 or so, the street was just getting warmed up for what looked to be a long night of celebrating!  There were some great little shops and restaurepants we explored before we ended up at our first Shwarma restaurant of the trip!  
After a fairly tasty (but from what I heard, not the best), dinner of Shwarma and chips, we headed back to the hotel.  While I can't speak for anyone else, I collapsed into bed wishing the alarm was twice as far away as it was!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Israel Day 1: Herzl and shuk

Wow. It is rather surreal for most of us that we are actually in Israel. We sat on the patio this afternoon talking about that fact- we are here, where thousands upon thousands of Jews stood before over thousands of years. Over breakfast, which was a buffet unlike any I'd seen before, we talked about how we slept, and while the guys seemed to sleep fine (shocker) us ladies, not so well. At one point when I woke up, around 2:43 am I think, I opened the curtains and just looked down on Jerusalem, not fully comprehending that I'm actually here.

The day started with a visit to the Herzl museum.  We were shuttled there by our driver from yesterday, who is a nice gentleman named Mahor (I know I spelled it wrong!). The museum itself was rather small, much smaller than I expected, but it packed a massive impact within the four rooms it housed. I think that Israel had to have pioneered the 4D theater experience, because that's pretty much what each room was. We were part of a movie playing, different scenes in each room, sharing the life of Theodor Herzl, the history of the Zionist movement, and the re-birth of Jerusalem as the heart of the future home of Israel and her people.

The grounds were beautiful, so lush and green. While Herzl died before he could witness his dream of Israel being recognized as a country, he knew it was only a matter of time before it happened, so he asked to ultimately be buried there, and his tomb rests on the grounds of the museum honoring his legacy on Mt. Herzl.  We saw so many memories for others through the the gardens, it was a moving place to visit.  There were multiple school groups there, too, and one group was assembled near a larger memorial singing and it was beautiful. 

From the calmness of the Herzl Museum, we headed to the opposite end of the spectrum: The Shuk. People say you have to experience the Shuk on Shabbat. Well.  They might have to, but it was not terribly enjoyable for me. Too many people, all pushing with voice and body, down streets too narrow, all made my anxiety spike. And yet, I survived. I even bought some incredible strawberries and grapes for us to snack on tomorrow (they were so delicious that I may or may not have tasted a few already!). It was a great place to watch people- haggling everywhere, speaking multiple languages, the smells of the spice stores and restaurants..... We actually spent some time at the Rosemary spice store, recommended from someone back home.  It was amazing! The smells were mouth watering, and many of us actually got to taste the spices as well as smell their aroma! Purchases were made, smiles exchanged, and we continued our search for delicious Israeli treats. 

Now. While I wasn't fond of the Shuk, we are planning to head back later in our visit, when it isn't so crazy. That will (hopefully) be more tolerable. One of my goals this trip is to work on working through challenging and uncomfortable situations like the one today (and the airplane ride), which I actually did today!

Tonight's dinner was a delicious meat buffet with so many different things to try.  The stuffed chicken was my favorite food. That said, my favorite part of dinner was being surrounded by tables full of people celebrating Shabbat. The hotel became full as people checked in for Shabbat, and families of all sizes recited blessings and shared in what was a lovely Shabbat dinner. 

We wrapped day one enjoying a continuation of our patio conversations from the afternoon. I think that one of the best parts about being in Israel with a small group like this is the connections we are deepening with each other. Tonight further reminded me how lucky I am to work with such wonderful people!

Until tomorrow.... Shabbat Shalom from "home!"