It would be more expected of me to write about my 10-day summer experience on Birthright, the sponsored trip to Israel every Jewish person aged 18-26 is allowed to take once in their life, however this past summer I chose a more authentic Israeli experience, at least in my opinion. I decided to take part in a two-month internship/learning program called J-Internship. Instead of a 10-day flash tour of the major sights and landmarks throughout the holy land, my two-month program was all about living an average Israeli life, experiencing work culture, Judaism, politics and of course, sightseeing .
There were fifteen girls in this program with myself included. Divided into three separate apartments, all within the same neighborhood, from America’s standard we were living in tight quarters. The apartment itself was livable, but like most apartments in that neighborhood, it was well-lived. Paint was peeling from the walls in most of the rooms, you couldn’t shower and do your laundry at the same time (planning ahead was a key when there are six people who needed to shower). The water tank above the toilet looked as though it would fall at any moment, crushing the lucky person using the toilet below. Israel seems to run on a system where things are continuously being fixed rather than replaced with something new. Our kitchen was small and five of us shared one bedroom. Bunkbeds lined each of the walls, but over all, it was comfortable. None of us spent a considerable amount of time in the apartments anyhow. Despite their uniqueness, our living arrangements were not the highlight of our trip to Israel.
Israel is one of the most unique countries I have ever visited. It is a profoundly religious place to most living there, reeling in those who feel a deeper connection to their faith the instant upon touching the holy soil.
There are many Israelis who have immigrated because of their faith. At the same time, this religiously important country is prospering in technological advancements, business, entrepreneurship, and environmental preservation, all of which draw people from all over the globe to live and further develop the tiny country.
In Jerusalem specifically, there is a unique blend of history and modern development. Parts of Israel’s capital are so ancient and rich in historic value, walking down any of the winding streets can transport you centuries back in time. But in only a short walks time, there are shopping centers, bars, restaurants and a train that weaves throughout the whole city. On one street you can see buildings thousands of years old and next-door a new cafe is just opening. In Jerusalem, the streets are always bustling and sometimes you have to shove your way onto the train if you are trying to catch a quick ride. Come Friday, the whole city shuts down. Every store, restaurant, bar, and service is closed until the sabbath is over Saturday night, when the first three stars are visible in the sky. There is so much to do and see in the capital city and there is always something new going on. People are friendly, outgoing, and probably the easiest people to strike up a conversation with.
Some things you can’t miss while visiting Israel are its famous beaches and of course, the Dead Sea, which makes you feel more alive than ever. Any of the beaches you choose along the Mediterranean are exquisite. If you love the beach, you’ll never want to leave. The sand is soft, with very few rocks even where the waves meet shore, and the sea bright blue. There are however, quite a few jelly fish during the month of July which is important to remember. The Dead Sea is a must and was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. They have both public and private accesses to the water, some separated for men and women. Although I was nervous about the burning and itching I heard may occur, I was pleasantly surprised to feel no irritation. The water was much warmer than I expected and oily from all the minerals and salts.
The deeper I waded, the more I felt my body begin to float until I was happily floating on my back like an otter. Underneath, instead of sand, there are salts and minerals which are extremely beneficial to the skin and so often people use them to scrub their bodies as they float. The sun is extremely intense and keeps the water at a very warm temperature, yet the whole experience is uniquely refreshing. You leave feeling cool and relaxed with a thin layer of oils covering your body. I used the minerals as a scrub and found my skin to be remarkably soft afterwards. I am already looking forward to the next time I visit the Dead Sea.
Although I lived in Israel for two months, I barely scratched the surface of the country. There are sights to see in the North as well as the South, although much of it is desert. I loved Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Ashdod, although I wish I spent more than a couple nights in each. I believe there is something for everyone in Israel, no matter what your interests may be. It is definitely a country to add to your traveling dream journal. Just remember, as always, when visiting new countries every culture is different with different social norms. An open mind is key.