I know, I know. I’m a bit late to the posting party. Michael already opened the series about our Oranim / Taglit-birthright israel / Jewlicious bus (Oranim #466) perfectly. If I were that kind of non-writerly person, I’d just let him speak for both of us, But, just your luck, I’m nothing of the sort. I’m a writer, a Jew, and a New Yorker, so you’re basically out of luck. Best to just sit back and relax with a felafel and a nice bag of milk, because this could take a while.
Our journey began in an exotic place of diverse peoples, old, disintegrating buildings, and interesting smells. But enough about Newark airport. It was there that I met my 15 guys and 25 girls from across the country who will be our family for the next ten days. Initial bonding began after we’d checked our bags and handed out nametags, with many questions ensuing about money changing (insert your own anti-Semitic joke here), and sleeping arrangements, as well as an ad hoc soccer (ad hoccer?) warmup in front of the security station. Interesting choice, but no one stopped it, so I guess it was ok. Chaos theory in motion, or something.
Before the flight, we gathered at the gate as Micky from Oranim led us in an icebreaker game involving a circle within a circle. Have you ever tried to get Jews in a circle, let alone a circle within a circle? If a hora ain’t a-playin’, it’s hard. (We also don’t seem to know how to reshelve books or make a straight line. Discuss.) Still, the game seemed to work fairly well. We made some noise in an airport, and got to know each other a little bit.
On the plane, not one person drank. Also, everyone stayed in their seats and we all had an excellent night’s sleep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What happens on El Al stays on El Al.
A measly ten-and-something hours later, we arrived in Israel, deplaning at Israel’s brand new terminal and walking for about a day until we got to baggage claim. There we were met by Momo with a warm â€œWelcome home, now go get your bags and meet back at this column and then we go to the bus.â€ Momo (short for Shlomo) is the President of Oranim. You’ll hear more about him later. Trust me.
More questions followed: mostly about changing money. Then it was out to the buses, where all of us, even this humble writer, met Michael for the first time. It was like something out of a commercial: he and I saw each other and ran in slow motion across a grassy knoll, leaping into each other’s arms with the youth and vigor of our inner children. Except we didn’t run. And instead of a knoll, it was a parking lot. And our inner children were asleep, because it was pretty early. But otherwise, it was exactly the same. We also met our main dude, Boaz; his co-guide, Avi; our medic/guard toting protective weaponry, Ennis (like Tennis without the t, he tells us), and our driver and #1 provider of bottles of water, Yechiel.
After a Momo Photo Studio photo op, we drive to Jerusalem. On the way, Boaz told us about the trees lining Highway 1â€”some are olive trees, with deep roots that are many hundreds of years old, and others are pines, which die quickly. There was much history to be learned. And there was no better place to start than the Old City.
Heading to the Tower of David, we picked up a Canadian/Moroccan/Israeli member of the paparazziâ€¦he took photots and immediately sold them to the Star for an undisclosed sum, his second coup in five weeks, having previously sold a series of photos of newborn Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt. The dude totally stalked us from his bicycle, as we walked the ramparts of Jerusalem into the Jewish Quarter for lunch. Lord knows where those photos ended up.
(ed. note: They’re talking about me, ck. That’s the thanks I get for following them around)
We headed into the Quarter, going through the Cardo and doing the first of many light shopping excursions. Finally, it was time for our long-awaited first look at the Kotel, the Western Wall, that all our busniks had been asking about since we got off the plane. Women in â€œimmodest dressâ€ covered their shoulders and knees, and menâ€¦did nothing to adjust their dress, as we headed off to our separate sections of the Western Wall.
Leaving the Wallâ€”but not for the last timeâ€”we were on our way to Neve Ilan, a village right outside of Jerusalem, where we had much-needed showers and dinner. After dinner, we had our second dose of the Momo, and learned about one of the things he loves most about Israel: go up to girls on the beach in Tel Aviv and say â€œwhat’s shaking,â€ and you know that they are all Jewish. He also mentioned his favorite smell: â€œThe smell of Jewish babies.â€
There was more, of course. I can’t report everything. But the first day was jampacked with activities, and moving around from place to place. Day 2 was differentâ€”covering Caesarea, a stop at a mall, a moshav where trip participants took part in trust- and team-building exercises (great pics to come). But the trip’s off to a great start. People are beginning to bond with each other, and stay up talking. (Probably later than any of us should, but I’m not the Mom of them. I’m not even the Momo of them.) Day 3 is going to be a day of soldiers, hiking, kayaking and various other activities in the North of the country.
Better grab a bottle of water, everyoneâ€¦you don’t want to dehydrate, do you? More later.