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Israel Day 1:

May 31, 2008

Note: I originally wanted to write a post a day from my trip. Unfortunately, time prevented me from doing so. I’ll be posting a few highlights over the next few days.

Day 1: “Welcome Home”

In many years of travel around the world, I have encountered many people who have, in their own special way, gone the extra mile to welcome me to their country. There was the customs agent in Ireland, who, in a typical Irish manner, noted that I wouldn’t be able to drink enough Guinness in my short time in the country. Or the Columbian man on my flight to Bogota who made sure to note that my #1 priority in the country should be finding a Colombian wife.

This trip started out differently. In addition to the welcoming plesantries by those around me who were on their 8th, 9th and even 15th trips to Israel, I encountered numerous people who said “welcome home.” The idea that I was heading home was strange at first, but made more and more sense as we winged our way closer to Tel Aviv. As it became clearer that I wouldn’t be getting more than three hours of sleep on the flight, I began thinking about the idea of duality in homeland.

While the United States is my physical homeland, as I stepped off the airplane I had a growing sense that I was indeed entering someplace special: my spiritual homeland.

After going through the international travel motions (passport control, customs, etc) our Israel Outdoors group made our way out of the airport to meet our tour guide, Vivi, our guard Uvi and bus driver Gidal. From Ben Gurion, we began trekking northwards toward our first stop: the Sea of Galilee, the area around Tiberias, and the Golan Heights.

If there is one thing the Israelis are not famous for, it is their architecture. Most of the buildings we passed looked like something out of Eastern Europe, but I suppose that in a country with such a tumultuous a history, form becomes secondary to function.

Our first stop on the journey was a short hike to the top of Mount Arbel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee and part of Tiberias. There, the group had the opportunity to take photos and Vivi led us in the shehecheanu. As a testament to the sometimes strenuous relation between Jews and Muslims in this land, we had to do it over a call to prayer originating from a mosque in an Israeli Arab village below the mountain. I was a bit surprised that many of the group had no idea what the loud Arabic being blared across the valley below was.

From Mount Arbel we piled back on the bus, drove through Tiberias, around the Galilee and into the Golan, where our first “hotel” was located: the Kibbutz Afik, a beautiful Kibbutz that had guest rooms in a hotel-style arrangement.

Once settled in, we began preparations for Shabbat. Two Orthodox couples and their young children from an organization called the Shabbat Experience joined us to provide us with the experience of a traditional Shabbat. We did a short Kabalat Shabbat service and then had a nice Friday night dinner. The food at the Kibbutz was okay…really nothing to write home about, although the transition in breakfast foods for some of the participants was fairly entertaining to see (“what’s with all these vegetables?).

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