You know how you sometimes write a great paragraph about your Israel trip and then your computer crashes for no apparent reason? Yeah, that. Well you missed a great paragraph. This is the reconstruction. But that’s appropriate, given that Israel is a country that unites the old with the new.

Tuesday we headed to an army base in Ma’ayan Baruch where we heard from the head of security, a self-described Southern “good ole boy” whose accent for some evoked that of the president we left behind at home in the US. He warned us that he’d be using a lot of four-letter words during his presentation. “I hope no one gets offended,” he said, but if you do, tough shit.” As security director for the base, he gave us a rundown of the history of the region as well as a nutshell description of the differences between Hezbollah and Hamas. But whichever terror group acts against Israel, he said, “we don’t negotiate with terrorists. And we don’t fuck around. The Palestinians hate us with a passion, considering the Zionist infidels—in jihad, they don’t care who they kill. There is no difference between men and women, old and young.” He shared a story about a daring school rescue in which all the terrorists were killed. They cleaned up the children and released them into the custody of their parents—until one woman said ‘where’s my son?’ They discovered that the terrorists had shot one child who was crying—put a gun to his head and blew his head off. “But one of the things that makes Israel so great is our ability to recover after an attack. And if people get hurt, we will respond.”

Then he introduced three soldiers whose presence had been duly noted by the women in the group from the moment of arrival. The commander of the Company B Hummer Patrol Team in the First infantry brigade—Golani, Yonatan, a serious, but young, guy with a whole lot of ammo strapped to his chest and back, gave us an introduction to some of the issues that he deals with on a regular basis, and also showed us some of his impressive assemblage of weaponry. He noted the advanced nature of Israel’s army techonology, especially that digital infantry better than all of the Arabs who surround us—everything from infrared laser beams to electronic alerts of unusual border crossings.

Our participants were struck by how young the soldiers were, and some noted the presence of Yonatan’s kippah—they found it amazing that religious Jews served in the army, and also were awed by the juxtaposition between signs of religious commitment side-by-side with commitment to serving in the military. Some just liked holding the guns.

If it’s around ten AM in Israel and you’ve been up for like three or more hours already, it’s time for a hike. This one was at the Snir, which is part water, part rock and part dry land. Which meant that everyone brought the wrong kinds of shoes. The water, which flows down from Mount Hermon into the Snir river, was freezing, but so refreshing in the heat and humidity. And if you brought the right shoes, which I did. Because I’m good like that.

Then it was time for baptism—after a freshly baked pizza in lots of exotic Israeli flavors (Olive! Corn! Za’atar!) we headed to the Jordan River with our Kayak trailer (bestkayaks.reviews/best-kayak-trailers-reviews so you can secure your trailer today) ready for our annual kayaking later that day. A security movie was summarily ignored, although we were in the same tent with it and stayed for its duration—but if the boat company would permit a criticism, I believe they need an English version of the film in order to reach youngish English-speaking audiences—people don’t like to read their security films. In groups of four, we suited up in lifejackets and were launched into the river. Oh, we were in boats. Yeah, forgot that part. Sounds less extreme now, but it was totally fun—in my boat there were three of us, and we were the last ones in and the first ones out, meaning that we were totally amazing. Of course. In the middle of the ride, we ended up floating near this other boat with a couple in it—the woman looked familiar to me, but how could I know someone boating on the Jordan River? But she recognized me too—it was a girl I went to school with since I was four years old, but who I hadn’t seen in about 9 years. Do I officially know too many Jews now? This is Israel, home of Jewish geography writ large and improbable but nonetheless possible.

Our shoes and clothes were wet, which smelled like Jordan. River. Yuck. So we shlepped ourselves into Neot Mordechai, a kibbutz that produces Teva and Naot sandals. Nothing in my size, which is a bummer, because they had some pretty good sales. But a good number of our participants walked out of there with bags of shoes. Imelda Marcos would have been proud.

Also at Neot Mordechai, our guide Boaz gave us an informational intro to the kibbutz, telling us that although it constitutes three percent of the population, there are a hundred kibbutzim around the country. As we walked back to the bus, severeal of the participants started an interesting discussion about communism and socialism—some expressed a wish to try kibbutz life, or envied the equality and independence of the lifestyle. Enough to sic Joe McCarthy on us.

In the Golan Heights, we went to an overlook/army base (where their coffee shop is called Koffee Anan…get it?) and looked across what seemed like a really short distance to Syria. We heard some intense history from Boaz and from Michael, who apparently hasn’t forgotten anything he’s heard since his birthright Israel trip. (And if he wants to interject here, that’d be fine with me, ya hear Mikey?) Arriving in Tverya (Tiberias), we had about fifteen minutes for 43 people to get showered, changed and ready to go to dinner on the midrechov (midway) Most of us even made it—but a few of us decided to wait till after dinner, drinks and dancing at a local bar.

The group is bonding fairly well, and several people have already been heard making plans for future hangouts in Israel after the trip, in Europe, and of course, back home. It’s nice to be able to believe that even at this early stage of the trip, we can see that there might be ripples and ramifications beyond the ten days of this experience. Jewish geography: the next generation…

More soon. Wear a hat! And don’t forget the sunblock…

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • Oh, yeah…I remember standing on top of a bunker in a moshav in the Golan Heights and being able to see Syria, and thinking that Syria has red red sand. Awesome.

  • Im just gonna go ahead and say it..
    oranim makes me want to punch myself in the face, and i dont even think that going with jewlicious would have helped… but going with 30 long island and new jersey 20 year old girls definitely didnt help either.
    I hope your trip goes better than mine did! And maybe I will run into you while you’re still here.

  • A Bubba security chief? Who knew? Probably a dream he had since childhood growing up in Austin. Cheers & Have some fun, ‘VJ’