We met at the airport in Newark after Shabbat and excitedly checked our bags and went to the gate. It was Ezra’s birthday so we surprised him and sang to him in the middle of the airport terminal!
We boarded the plane and settled comfortably into our seats. Isaac handed out an itinerary for our trip to get us excited for all of our adventures. Isaac had added some funny commentary that had us all laughing and already bonding.
The flight went by quickly and before we knew it we landed in Israel. It was especially exciting because a few people in our group hadn’t been to Israel before! We moved through the airport and got out to our van. We were joined by Adi who’s an IDF soldier and we were lucky she joined our group for the night.
We headed down to south to our beautiful Airbnb in the little town in Mitzpeh Ramon. We got to a big house with a lot of space to sleep and hang out. The spacious home, ‘Desert Glory,’ lived up to its name. It overlooks the desert and has a stunning view. We then headed to a yummy dinner at Pangea where we had all sorts of foods and sang Ezra happy birthday again. We wandered back through the streets of Mitzpeh and ended our night back at the house. Everyone headed to sleep-pumped for our day in the desert tomorrow!
We ended the night by stargazing in the Makhtesh. Apparently this area is the place in Israel with the best stargazing, because it has the least light pollution, and the atmosphere was totally clear, so we were able to see a ton of cool constellations and (through a telescope) all four of Jupiter's moons!
I'm exhausted and heading to bed now, but today was such a fun day! It's only been a bit over 24 hours in Israel at this point, but I'm already happy, excited and having a wonderful time!
-Marina Finley '19
My day started at 4:00 AM. My body deemed it necessary to start with a reversal of things. When I woke up, it was bedtime back home.
I tumbled out of my bed - a floor-level mattress - looking for food, in my default groggy and famished state. I raced down the stairs and was shocked to find at the bottom another conscious member of our group. Noah had been reading nearly all night long. Together, we downed a sleeve of saltine crackers. We promised we would never tell anyone, but I have a blog post to write. Sorry, Noah.
After a while, a small contingent of us were stumbly around aimlessly, chatting as we could. We decided to walk out to the beautiful outdoor terrace then onto the roof to watch the sun rise over Mitzpeh Ramon. It was so still, so perfectly quiet. We huddled underneath our blankets as the desert sun began to warm us.
Once everyone was awake, we began our daily text study. We are reading the Haggadah, in preparation for Passover. I have read it every year as a part of my family's Pesach Seder, but I have never delved into the commentary beyond a surface level. Max and I grappled with issues of the Passover sacrifice taking precedence over the keeping of Shabbat. Rabbi Eitan led us in a discussion of the eruv and its relation to public and private spaces in the Talmud and the Torah.
Once we finished studying, we set out on a Jeep tour of the crater, which we learned was not really a crater, but a makhtesh, a unique geological formation. Our guides drove us along rocky trails, stopping along the way to observe unique rock formations and desert trees. I have been to this crater many times, but with every return, I find something new to marvel at, whether it's mineral striations or resonant stones.
After lunch, we joined Jack, our guide for the afternoon, for a round of Gibush. This consisted of various team building activities, from building a human bridge to solving tangram puzzles. We ended the day as we started it, watching the sun set from the edge of the crater.
After a pizza dinner, we dropped back down into the crater to meet Ira the Starman. We were taken for a wild ride through the constellations, and ended the day at peace.
The jet lag is subsiding; people started waking up at 6 instead of 3 this morning. We quickly made sandwiches (Max deemed Arielle and Miriam as the best sandwich makers) and boarded the bus for a long drive to the Dead Sea. Rabbi made use of our ride by giving us a shiur on Passover and the four sons and DJ Jacob played some of his favorite Israeli songs for us. The bus stopped on the side of the road (seemed sketchy enough) in front of Mount Sodom. Grabbing helmets, repelling gear and headlamps, we started making our way up the mountain. By that I mean we ascended a flight of stairs with minimal handrails built into the side of the mountain. Despite a panic attack, bloody knee, extreme lightheadedness and calf fixation, we made it to the top of the mountain and proceeding to slide down on our butts onto a landing with just enough room for all of us to sit and relax.
Our guide, Yoav, cracked some jokes while he made us Turkish coffee (that smelled like tobacco) and tea (that tasted like hot water) to go along with our pitas. Guy, with his luscious ombre hair, set up the first rappelling contraption for a 9 foot drop onto a small ledge overlooking a second 200 foot shaft. So we hooked our belts and were slowly lowered into the heart of Mount Sodom with nothing but our small headlamps to illuminate the dark, salty hole. Once everyone was down, we began a three hour crawl through the salt caves. This "crawl" consisted of crouching beneath salt-sicles and climbing over salt-bergs until we finally army-crawled our way out of the mountain and into daylight. As dirt-covered and dehydrated as we were, we were a more united group. After going through something that was so out of our comfort zones, there seemed to be a stronger sense of togetherness that could only have been achieved through such an experience.
Within 10 minutes of boarding the bus, we were all asleep. As we entered Jerusalem, DJ Jacob set the mood with "Yerushalaim Shel Zahav" and "Im Eshkachech". We soon reached an army base in East Jerusalem where we ate dinner with soldiers. They gave us a tour of their base and told us about life in the army. Although I was intimidated at first, I realized how real the soldiers were and got to practice my Hebrew a little bit. The night ended with long showers for everyone in a beautiful apartment in Jerusalem that supposedly has some hysterical meaning that I can't remember. All in all, the day was terrifying, exhausting and really fun. Definitely a successful Chaboard bonding experience for all.
Waking up in Jerusalem, one of the holiest cities in the holiest country, will never get old. Thursday on the Chabad Board trip to Israel began with a beautiful coffee shop breakfast a mere walk from our AirBnB.
Just before nine, we road tripped to the Mount Saul. This place has a storied history, where the King falls on his own sword in battle at this very mountain. For us, a different challenge awaited: paragliding. For someone like me — perpetually risk averse and with a fear of heights — it was something immediately met with skepticism. Yet, after a few deep breaths, I embarked on one of the most beautiful and serene fifteen minutes of my life. In the air, I could see miles across the Holy Land, noticing mountains and fields, sprawling wildlife and desolate areas. It was, without a doubt, the best way to get a picture of Israel.
After the paragliding experience, we went to Tzfat, the center of Kabbalah Judaism. While we spent just an hour in the small town, we were able to see beautiful shops and art. Personally, I met a friend from home in Tzfat, and catching up while overlooking gorgeous scenery and consuming endless shawarma was a perfect microcosm of the Israeli experience.
After Tzfat, we went to the shiva of a fallen IDF soldier in Elyakim. Netanel, the twenty-year-old killed soldier, was described as having a “heart of gold.” It was difficult to confront such tragedy, but we were able to celebrate and hear from family members and friends of Netanel. Our entrance and attendance meaningfully impacted the family. I could tell they were grateful, and we vowed to honor him back at Princeton and spread his legacy of loving kindness.
We ended the day in Caesarea, a city in the northern part of Jerusalem, at the Tishbi winery. We partook in a delicious meal and engaged in heated conversation. After we filled ourselves with all types of kosher food, we continued with a homestay in a beautiful Caesarean home. It was an incredible day, one of the best on the trip, and it just made me excited for what was to come.
After the salt cave and army base visits of the past day, we were welcomed to a Jerusalem morning that was all sun and smiles. The early hours were spent studying the Haggadah and asking questions about Judaism, before walking down to an extremely filling breakfast that left everyone satisfied.
We then began the decent to the old city by Segway. As someone who doesn’t usually use
unconventional modes of transportation, this was quite the experience for me and even made the
incredible views of the old city all the more remarkable as we descended down.
After some more Pesach-centric learning at the outskirts of the old city, we finally entered inside and I was immediately overwhelmed by its breathtaking beauty. Walking up and down the streets of
Jerusalem, I felt so connected to my religion and my people to an extent I had never felt before. Rooftop views left me absolutely mesmerized, an experience that I surely will never forget.
The indescribable feeling of warmth and connection I was experiencing peaked upon visiting the Kotel.
As a first-time visitor to Israel, at that point I was able to reflect and finally even contemplate the vast holiness of this place I was visiting. It was truly a sight and experience to behold.
Walks through the Muslim quarter and the Shuk on the way back to our temporary home provided
further insight into the life of everyday people in Jerusalem, while also giving me the opportunity to
bond even closer with many of my new friends on the trip. When we finally returned, Rabbi Webb
treated us to an incredibly delicious (a bit too much so) sushi platter, as we all reflected on our favorite parts of the trip thus far, the amazing friendships we have already made, and our connections to Judaism.
It was at this point where I felt closest with everyone on the trip and just so happy to have made such fantastic friends. We stayed up for a long while just talking with one another, and when I finally went to bed I couldn’t shake the feeling of excitement for what was yet to come on our trip!
After a lively Friday night dinner, many of us slept in Shabbat morning. At the Debbi’s,
the girls slowly got up and got ready to go to the Ekhnan’s for lunch. We made our way there by
early afternoon. The Ekhnan’s once again welcomed us into their beautiful home and to their
table. Lunch was full of Israeli staples like chummus, techina, Israeli salad, and sweet potatoes,
along with little salads, chicken, meatballs, mushrooms, broccoli, and an elaborate array of
desserts. It was so special to experience Shabbat a home table, which is not something that
happens often on campus. Chabad Friday nights is absolutely amazing, full of interesting
conversation and new people, but the home comfort of having many people around just one
table was amazing. Both the Debbi’s and the Ekhnan’s hachnasat orchim, welcoming of guests,
was personally extremely inspiring. I hope I have the ability and the opportunity to welcome
people who need a place to stay when I have my own home.
After lunch, the group spread out between the living room and the pool deck outdoors,
where there was a large wooden table, some lounge chairs, and a swing. As usual, each group
of people was soon immersed in an interesting, involved conversation. I noticed also that as our
comfort with each other had grown, so too had our ability to listen and respond. Some of us
had come on the trip bristling when certain others began voicing their opinions, but on that
Shabbat afternoon, I realized we had learned to trust that what was about to be proposed was
going to be thoughtful, even if we disagreed with it.
As the afternoon wore on, we walked back to the Debbi’s where we would be having
the third meal of Shabbat. Some of us rested, some talked, and we ate and made havdala. After
Shabbat, we showered and packed up quickly so that we could make it to our (second) dinner
reservation, which was at a restaurant called Agenda. The Eknan’s and the Debbi’s joined us for
our final meal together. We talked about favorite moments, scary moments, and beautiful
moments. No one was happy to be leaving, but my feeling, and I believe the general sentiment,
was that we had had such a meaningful, inspiring week that we could not have asked for a
better experience. Boarding the airplane that night, I thought back on the many times I had
taken a flight from Israel to the US: there was, as always, the sadness of leaving, and the desire
to come back in the future, but there was something different also. There was a desire to be
back with my fellow board members in particular, to experience with them once again, to
discourse and debrief with such a special group of people.