This page was written more than four years after the events occured, so it may not be entirely accurate and is definitely not a complete account of the the trip. I do have some notes that I made while travelling and I may come back and update this after consulting those. In the meantime, if you were on the trip and have more info, or just want to say "Hi" then please drop me a line.
The trip was a combination of the UJA Campus Leaders mission and a more general student mission. Because I was co-chair (with Rachel Nowak) of the Tulane United Jewish Appeal campaign (more information about that can now be obtained from Tulane Hillel), I received a discount. I obtained additional funding from the New Orleans community and my Grandparents generously helped out with the rest. So the trip was paid for.
This was the first time I had ever left the country and needed a passport (one is not required to go from San Diego to Tijuana!) so that was a bit of a hassle, but I managed it. Part of the problem was that we were supposed to depart around 23 December, 1993. Since the govenment tends to slow down around then, I was a bit worried about getting my documents in time.
The folk on the misssion were all pretty friendly. We flew El-Al and although the food and service wasn't great, it was copious and pleasant (respectively). Best of all, from our perspective, was the free booze on international flights. More than one person on the flight had a doozy of a headache by the time we arrived in Tel Aviv. But the flight was a great chance to get to know some of the people I'd be spending the next ten days with.
Arriving in Israel was a strange experience. On the one hand, I wanted to be deeply moved and emotionally touched -- here I was in a land where Jews had lived for 4000 years and was a safe haven for Jewish people. On the other hand, I was in an airport. My primary concern was actually my luggage, and it wound up taking several days for it to sink in that I was in the Jewish homeland.
This is a bit of a hodgepodge of memories. Looking at the program would allow me to put all of this in chronological order and get the specific locations right, but I don't have that in front of me so I'll just go with the mental flow.
We wandered around an ancient fort during one of the first few days in the country. The highpoint, I think, was seeing some subterranian water storage facility. It was also the site of the first meal that I had in Israel. A bag lunch, I think.
The only time we ventured into the West Bank was to visit some Roman ruins. I don't recall much about this at all, and we may not even have actually gotten off of the bus.
We spent two nights in a kibbutz in the Golan. This kibbutz made a good portion of its income from the tourist industry and was well equipped to handle our group. As part of our stay we watched a local dance group, ate kosher chinese food, went on an evening dance cruise on Lake Kinneret, and visited a nearby University. This last activity was one of the more interesting, as we talked with Israelis of a similar age (although they had all had some type of military service). One of the notions that stuck with me was expressed my several of them, who said they sometimes resented that many of the buildings and facilities in Israel were named after North American donors. They appreciated the generosity, but had mixed feelings about accepting it.
This is where I finally realized where I was and what it meant to me. We were in the city for Shabbat and had a group service on the edge of the city. Afterwards, we could go as individuals to the Kotel, or Western Wall. I went again on Saturday morning. Even though I was only there for a short while, it was an immensely powerful experience. Here I was, standing in the same place and saying the same words that Jews had been standing and saying for thousands of years.
In Jersulam we also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. This was also a very emotional experience. More meaning was added to the day when we followed the memorial with a visit to a JNF forest and had the opportunity to plant a few trees.
I did a few other things in Jerusalem, a bit less emotional but no less memorable. For example, Amy (shown sleeping on the tour bus) and I wandered around the Arab market doing a bit of shopping. It was all quite pleasant until she tried to purchase a feminine hygeine product of one sort or another. Quite tough to do in that particular set of shops!
Drifiting back up north, we spent some time in the Golan. This included a jeep tour of the area and a visit to a Druze village. One of the village elders spoke to us about the history of the people and the problems they faced since some of their families were in various Arab countries and thus out of reach.
On our way back south we went for a little hike in the Jordan River Valley. We were led by an Israeli conservationist and learned a bit about environmental issues in Israel.
Eventually we made it to Masada and the Dead Sea. This was pretty spectacular. The Roman ruins on the top of the mountain were in great shape (despite me leaving a bottle cap in the roman baths -- and my sister throwing up in the same spot when she suffered from heat exhaustion the next summer) and the experience was only slightly marred by conducting a practice campaign while there. But after the heat and dust of what was a pretty strenous climb we were quite glad to get to the Dead Sea. As this picture of me and Adam indicates, we took full advantage of the resources!
Part of the purpose of the mission was to show us where UJA money was spent, and to this end we went to an orientation camp for Ethiopian Jews. This was where many people lived until they could assimilate more completely into Israeli society. People who spoke no Hebrew, were for the most part unfamiliar with a lot of modern conviences, and had no job or money had a difficult time fitting in even with help, so I suppose the situation would be much worse without such facilities. While at the camp I became buddies with a guy named Tal, who was quite amused that my Hebrew was worse than his.
We left Israel from the same city to which we arrived -- Tel Aviv. On our return trip we visited the Diaspora Museum, which had exhibits on Jewish life around the world and throughout history. We also had the chance to do a bit of shopping around Dizengoff Street, where some of us paused by a fountain. The last official event was the farewell dinner, in one of Dan Hotels. Quite a posh event, it was also a bit sad, as it marked the end of an amazing trip.
During the longish bus rides we were kept entertained in a variety of ways. Our bus driver was a former tank captain, and his driving reflected that. We were stuck behind a few cars near the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and he was all set to ram the car in front of us. Our guide had to calm him down and convince the other drivers to pull over and let us through. The guide was also a character and regaled us with stories from his military career.
Einat, an Israeli studying in Harvard, was on our bus and she made a point of reading us the news each morning. That was usually followed by a ritual debriefing, in which one luck person got to share their thoughts and feelings about what we had seen, were going to see, or wanted to see.
Aron and Dave, both studying at American University, kept the entire bus laughing. Dave had some notion of becoming a Rabbi (I wonder is he has), but they would do this ridiculous Seinfeld routine. It was funny then.
Despite the hustle and bustle of touring as a group, I did get the opportunity to know a few people well. Rebecca and I had some fairly good bus conversations, although there are few things more revealing than 13 hours of transatlantic conversation.
After the farewell dinner in Tel Aviv, we broke up into various groups for little parties. I think the wine was from room service, but the musical entertainment was top notch.
On the way back from Israel the plane ran out of orange juice. Before breakfast. But all those screwdrivers didn't prevent the people from Long Island from joyously cheering when they recognized the first malls on the eastern seaboard. We were back in the States.