Day 8

Eliana ~ We started off at the Jewish cemetery of Salonica, which is beautifully kept. We learned about some of the Jews buried there. A unique thing about this cemetery is that some of the deceased chose to have their arm number from Auschwitz written on their grave. After we left the cemetery, we went to the Jewish museum. There we learned about the Jews of Greece, starting from the Tanach up until World War II. We then left the museum and went to a park to have a nutritious lunch that consisted of marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, yogurt and some fruit. When we finished lunch, we went on a boat ride that gave a fantastic view of the coast of Salonica. After the boat ride, we drove around on our air conditioned (thank goodness) bus to get a tour of the Jewish villas in Salonica. The Jewish villas are gigantic houses that belonged to the Jews of Salonica before they were taken away to the camps in World War II, and since sadly most of the Jews didn’t return home, the houses now belong to the government. The houses are now used as galleries and government offices. It was so sad seeing such exquisite villas that used to belong to Jewish families, and that they were taken away from them just because they were Jewish. We then drove around the University of Salonica, which is built on what was once the largest cemetery in the world, and was a Jewish cemetery and held 500,000 Jewish graves. When the Germans came, they destroyed the cemetery and it had never been rebuilt. Because it is such a large piece of land, the university was built there. Continuing on our bus tour, we drove to the train station that the Jews of Salonica were deported from to Poland. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine that a city once rich with Jews and Jewish life has now only 1000 Jews. When we finished that, we had a chance to go shopping, which was super fun. We then returned to the hotel, got ready for dinner and went to eat another delicious meal at the kosher restaurant in Salonica.  We returned to the hotel and went to sleep.

And of course we did what was most important and really needed- laundry!

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Day 7

Aaron ~ Day 7 of the trip was an amazing one. We started off the day with a trip to one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen. The building was absolutely perfect in every way. In that particular synagogue they only use it for high holidays and weddings but they opened it up for us. I thought that was a wonderful thing of them to do as they realized that we would never be able to see that synagogue or pray in it again. While we davened there was a certain ruach that I had never felt before and it was so powerful. After davening we went on a bus ride to a street in Greece. This street was filled with vendors and all different kinds of shops. As we were walking a man started putting bracelets on our wrists. After putting them on he gave some of us nicknames and acted like our friend. But then he started asking for money. So each of us had to pay a Euro or more for a small bracelet that most of us threw out. After that lovely experience we went and had a picnic lunch right on the boardwalk, which is where we met up with Rabbi Aaron. He told us that the synagogue that we davened in today was very historic. In fact that synagogue is the exact synagogue where Rabbi Koretz brought all his people together and told them to go with the Nazis. This was such a riveting story for me as I felt that I had just davened where people were virtually sentenced to death. That was very hard for me to get past but we had to move on so I did as well. After that we went with Rabbi Aaron and we mapped out an Erev that he wants to construct for Thessaloniki. We looked at the ancient walls that were still standing and we had to determine if they were acceptable for an Erev. I found that to be very interesting because I have never done something like that before and it was nice to see how. After this we went to the top of the walls and gazed upon an amazing view and took many pictures of it. When we finished that Rabbi Tessler surprised us and offered a trip to a water park because we had been very good that day. So we went back to the hotel and then drove off to the waterpark. As you all know something’s in Europe are very different then in America and this water park was no exception. The wave pool had much larger waves. There was no lazy river but there was a crazy river. But we still did everything and had so much fun together as a group. To finish off the day we had a great dinner with parents of a counselor at the camp. We told them all about the camp and how we loved. I hope it made their day.

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Day 6

Danny ~ Friday was our second to last day at the camp. In just a few days we had become a part of the camp. Every night the Greek and Israeli kids would come to our bunk and call us out and we would hang out with them until we couldn’t stay up any longer. Unfortunately this means we are absolutely exhausted. Daytime naps have become very popular among the kids on SOS. Anyway, we were very excited to have our first full day at the camp. Some of us sang in the singing circles, others got into the European culture and played fütbol with all of the Greek people. Jonah lay in bed.

            We were all very excited as Shabbat approached because we knew this was a big deal for al the campers there, as it was for some of them their only real Jewish experience they have. The Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony was filled with wonderful singing and dancing. One dance even featured Jonah and Alex; they were great! Afterwards we stayed back and davened with some of the kids from the camp. In that moment it really felt like we were doing what we had came to do, giving them a chance to experience Judaism in a way they don’t usually get in that camp. After this we all ate a lovely Shabbat dinner and some of us even went to bed!

            Saturday we had a very relaxed day, some of us slept, some played futbol, some of us got into a minor water fight with some Israelis, others went down to the incredibly beloved beach (it is l the most beautiful beach in the whole entire world, It is so quiet and all you hear is birds and waves crashing quietly into the sand). We davened shacharit again with the kids from the camp; and we read from the Torah.

           As Shabbat came to a close, we prepared for disco: A dance party where everyone needs to bring a date (wasn’t a problem for any of the beautiful people going on SOS). This was the last night of the camp so it was very emotional for all of the campers there. However they still got us involved in every way and we danced with all the people there. During the dance we realized just how connected we had become with these kids. Some of us were so sad to say goodbye that we stayed up literally the whole night with them. We really need some sleep. The next day Aaron and I joined Aviva, Zoe, and Eliana on the beach very early in the morning to see the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. The sun was so big and red, it reflected so beautifully off of the ocean, the water was so quiet, it was so peaceful and wonderful. As we said our goodbyes we realized how sad we were to leave these people. It was a great experience that I will remember forever.

 

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Day 5

 

Noah’s Blog ~ Leaving Camp and Traveling to Thessaloniki

We woke up this morning with a sense of communal sadness because we knew that today would be our last moments in the Greek Jewish summer camp. We packed up our bags, took one last look at the beautiful Aegean sea as we ate breakfast, and had our last meefkad  (morning flag raising) with the camp because today is their last day as well. Once we all said our goodbyes with all of our new friends we hopped on the bus and headed to the small town of Vergina to see the tomb and other artifacts of Philip II of Macedonia. He was the father of alexander the great, and he also unified Greece. It was as if we walked back into history with our great tour guide, whose special way of presenting was very dramatic. Because everything was buried under a hill for 2,000 years, most of the artifacts were intact so we could see everything very vividly. We saw the tomb of Phillip II and his wife, his grandson, and everything that was buried with him. They excavated all of his body armor and vessels that he used for his infamous parties.  But what was coolest for me is that they found his golden crown which looks exactly the same as it did when he wore it.  After that, we drove to Veroia which is a city outside Thessaloniki and saw the Jewish section and synagogue that was wiped out because of the war. The man in charge of keeping the synagogue told us that Jews first started coming to this city during the time of the Roman empire and those Jews are still called Romaniot Jews. The synagogue was built in the 1000’s and became very popular after the Spanish Inquisition. The population for the most part was around was around 1,000 Jews. However, 600 Jews died in the holocaust (most of them children), and the rest of them escaped by running away into the hills. We saw apartment buildings that had Hebrew on them with the date of which the building was constructed was on it. It was also very scary to realize that the Nazis walked on the same streets that we did, taking Jews to their death. Now there are no Jews living in that city, and the synagogue is only used for a museum and no one is praying in it. After that we went to an old age home in Thessaloniki which reminded us that there still are survivors from this terrible tragedy. Everyone has an incredible time making connections and talking to the residents. All of their stories were very interesting, including two women who survived the concentration camps and another woman whose father sent her to hide from the Nazis while the rest of her family died. It was very special to sing with them Hebrew songs, which helped jog their memory of their lives pre-war. We all felt that we had brightened their day and had made an impact in their lives. After that we we went to the hotel, which is very nice and is definitely a step up from the tents that we had stayed in the camp. We had a great dinner at  the only kosher taverna in greece. Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Av, so we will try to make a minyan with the Rabbi of Thessaloniki and learn about his plan of making an eruv here. We are having an amazing time, and it only going to get better.

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Day 4

Shabbat in Camp – Bella

“A New Kind of Shabbat”  ~ If I could describe the past Shabbat experience in one word, it would be “meaningful”. It was very different kind of Shabbat for me. Not just because I wasn’t with my family, but because we had the opportunity to eat with 250 new Jewish Greek children and teens to whom Shabbat was an essential part of their Judaism, as it is to us too.
It all began Friday afternoon at 6:30 PM when the entire camp gathered in the outdoor makeshift auditorium to sing Kabbalat Shabbat. Everybody showers and puts on nice clothes for Friday night. With the lights shined bright, music blaring, and microphones turned up high, the party got going. It was very inspiring to see how excited each person was to be part of Shabbat. They had spent hours that afternoon rehearsing their songs and dances. Wow, was it amazing! As soon as the program began, each camper was out of their seat, jumping to the beat of the music, and singing along. They knew every word by heart. For many of the children here, the only Shabbat they will ever experience is here at camp. We were so grateful for them to allow us to be part of this special time.

Following the performances, the SOS group, along with a few camp staff members, sat down in a circle to bring in the Shabbat with the traditional prayers, led by the camp Rabbi. Behind us, was a view of the beautiful Mount Olympus! Then we had dinner, and enjoyed staying up late and getting to know the Jewish-Greek teens (who speak pretty good English!).

The next morning we woke up bright and early for mifkad (flag raising), then breakfast, and tefillah. The camp rabbi took out the Torah, read part of the parsha, and gave out aliyot to many of the Jewish teens. He spent lots of time explaining the stories from the Torah to the campers in Greek, and of course- we had no idea what was going on. We sat amongst the young campers, about 6-8 years old. One girl in particular would sit on my lap, as we together watched the Rabbi. She picked up my siddur, asking what it was and why she did not understand the language inside. As I tried to explain in English what it was, I found myself finally understanding why this camp was so essential to the continuity of the Jewish community in Greece. I showed her the words of “Shema”, the prayer that the camp says together at their flag raising ceremony in the mornings. Not only was she excited to understand, but I too was happy that I could teach her something meaningful. Summer camp here wasn’t just about Judaism, but about becoming friends with people whom you would never have expected.

The rest of the day including lots of free time, chilling with the Greek teens, basketball and workouts, watching and participating in their closing ceremony, lunch and dinner, and then a Havdalah and a disco party.
As I am sitting on the bus now, reflecting on the good-byes we had to say just a few minutes ago to our new Jewish-Greek friends, I understand how special we are to them, as they are to us. Though we live very different lives, there is so much that united us all, expressed through the friendships from the past four days.

I can’t wait to see what is in store for us next!

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Day 3

Alex and Ethan ~   Day three of our exciting adventure has proven that every day on this trip will be fantastic. It was our first day here in the Jewish camp in LiTohoro. We spent last night in large tents and it was a great experience sleeping in nature. Surrounded by the mountains, including Mt. Olympus, and the Aegean Sea, the camp is in one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places we’ve ever been. There are positives to sleeping in tents such as community and nature, but there are also negatives such as bugs and having to sleep in the humid climate.

In the morning we took a 40 minute drive with experienced climbers to Mt. Olympus for an eight kilometer hike that took about five hours. On the hike we got to see LiTohoro from the view of the ancient Greek gods. The scenery was beautiful. There were two guides on this hike, one in front and one in back. The man in the front, Chris, was speed walking without a care in the world, it didn’t matter to him if he lost us or we needed a brake. The man in back, Antonio, kept a very slow pace, which was much easier to keep up with. Alex was in the faster group and Ethan forgot his physical limitations and tried to keep up with the first group. When Ethan quickly realized that this pace was too much for him, Alex kindly walked at a slower pace with him. While this was happening the slower group fell way behind, while the faster group went even faster, and the two of us were stuck in the middle. We could see the group in front at the beginning but as we gradually slowed down both groups distanced themselves from us even more. This left us entirely alone for about forty minutes without being able to hear or see the other groups. We thought we were lost, but we pushed through and finally caught up with first group and then Chris, the instructor in front, decided to wait for the farther group. We finally reunited and were able to continue this incredible hike. There were beautiful cold springs, gorges, and mountains that went beyond the clouds. When we finished the hike we took a car back to the camp and jumped into the clear, and turquoise water of the Aegean Sea. It was awesome. After that there was a camp Maccabi where we competed in sports against the Greeks. There was a very intense game of basketball between the Americans and the campers. The whole camp was watching, and it was really cool. We ended up losing but only because we were exhausted from the hike, and we wanted to take it easy on our fellow Jews. It was a great chance to bond with them, and these kids are really cool. It is amazing that we can so easily make friends with the campers here after such little time.

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Day 1 & 2

Jonah R ~I came to Dulles Airport looking forward to a great trip filled with many chesed and touring opportunities in Greece and Israel. I was expecting a great group of kids with an awesome counselor and the best trip Imma and Abba in the world. Everything that we have done so far has completely blown whatever I thought was going to happen out of the water. After a very long flight to Istanbul, we got on the plane to Athens. The flight was short but the views as we flew in over the Aegean Sea were astounding. We got to the airport and drove to our hotel in the heart of Athens. As we looked up at the Parthenon from our hotel terrace, we imagined the great events that occurred in Greece hundreds of years ago. We went to sleep excited for the coming day. Early in the morning, we got on the coach bus and took a trip to the Jewish summer camp Le Tohoro.  On the way to the camp, we drove along the coast of Greece. The views of the water were breathtaking. Most of us slept pretty much the whole way there. The camp is situated about a hundred meters from the beach.  For all you Americans, not very far. It rained today so instead of the normal activities, we set up a mini carnival for the kids to show them that you can still have fun even when it’s raining. The love for Israel and Judaism here is so nice to see from many kids. For some, this is the only Jewish experience they get for the whole year so it makes it that much more incredible that they love it so much. Tomorrow we will be climbing Mt. Olympus so we will hopefully get much sleep tonight.  

Kherete (Good bye in Greek)

 

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Greece and Israel 2014

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Day 19

Sunday July 14, 2013 ~Tali ~Today we woke up at 7 because we had to be on time for our first stop- the Knesset.  We toured the building itself and learned a little about how Israeli politics works.  The first place we went to was a committee room, where bills are written up in legal terms.  Then we went to the main floor where the members of Knesset vote on the bill.  The seating arrangement is in the shape of a menorah.  At the base sits the Speaker of the House, whose job is to maintain order during the session.  Directly in front of him sits the Prime Minister and the ministry.  On the stands above that main floor sits the reporters, the President, and special guests.  Then, behind them sits the public, though it is behind a bulletproof glass to protect the members of the Knesset.  After our tour, we sat down and spoke with Mickey Levy, a member of the Yesh Atid party.  He used to be the chief of police in Jerusalem and was one of the people who responded to the many attacks during the 2nd Intifada.  He met the Tesslers when he was in America, and now is the assistant finance minister (to Yair Lapid) of the Knesset.  Sitting down with him and talking was really nice and he gave us a lot of insight into how the government works in Israel.  After talking to Mickey, we went across the street and saw a menorah.  This menorah is engraved with scenes from Jewish history like Matan Torah, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Aliyot.  It is placed outside of the Knesset to remind the members of their past so that they can make a better future for the country.  From the Knesset, we went to do chesed with Ethiopian children.  While Madi, Zoe, and Dalia worked outside with some kids pulling out weeds and planting pretty plants, Miri and I stayed inside to color in cutouts of ice cream and to play a few games with the kids.  At the end, we all came together to sing and dance to some Hebrew songs.  Then, we had a quick lunch in a mall before heading to Independence Hall, where Ben-Gurion proclaimed the Jewish state of Israel.  Sitting there made me think of what great leaders there were to actually create a state for the Jews, because if they hadn’t done so, who knows whether or not we would have Israel now.  We watched a small clip about what lead to the establishment of the state of Israel, and then walked around the Carmel shuk for a little bit. We made a quick stop at the port in Tel Aviv, which was actually so stunning.  We all tried to take jumping pictures and then some ‘artsy’ ones- you can only imagine the looks we were getting from the people walking by.  Zoe and Madi played on the playground nearby for a little bit and then we boarded the bus once again to head back to Jerusalem.  We all switched up the living arrangements in that we moved into the apartment that Noa and the Tesslers were in for Shabbat- Dalia, Miri, and I in one room and Madi and Zoe in the other.  Then we walked to Mamila Mall to grab some dinner.  After searching almost everywhere for a place that was nut-free to some extent for Miri, we finally found a nice cozy café. There, we met Noa’s twin sister and spoke some more about ahavat chinam vs. sinat chinam because Tisha B’Av is nearing and that is an important topic in relation to the day.  After we all finished up, we went back to our apartment and Aviva gave us all shirts with our picture on it that says SOS International 2013 and lists the places we visited, which we all decided to wear them on the plane ride home.  Then we began listing funny quotes and memories we have from this trip and officially added Noa and Saphira to the dwarf club.  Saphira is glowy since she is always happy and smiling and literally glows, and Noa is friendly because she is able to talk to everyone and makes them all feel very important.  After, we all went to sleep to rest up for tomorrow.

 

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Day 18

Saturday July 13, 2013 ~ Miri’s Blog: This morning we woke up to Rabbi Tessler singing Modeh Ani and went to the dining room of Beit Shmuel to eat breakfast. Aviva and Saphira were not allowed to eat the food with us, but luckily Saphira managed to sneak some food into her mouth without being caught by the strict hotel worker who was watching us. We then walked to Shira Chadasha to daven Shacharit. We listened to Rabbi Tessler receive and Aliyah during Torah reading, and after davening was over we went over to Saphira’s apartment for lunch. We listened to Rabbi Tessler tell the story about how he met Aviva and how he proposed to her. We all loved the story and we also were told how Aviad proposed to Saphira. After a very nice lunch we walked back to Beit Shmuel while Zoe went to visit her cousins. Tali, Dalia, and I took naps while Madi explored the hotel. A few hours later we all went to the apartment in which the adults were staying. All of us were impressed with the apartment, and therefore we were very excited to hear we would be staying there tomorrow night. We had many fun games of Taboo and then ate Seudat Shlishit. Time passed by very quickly and soon it was time to say Havdallah. Unfortunately, the Rabbi had to leave for the airport right after Shabbos was over, so before going back to our hotel room we all said good-bye to him. We then went to change our clothes and then Noa brought us to Ben Yehudah Street where we would have hours to shop. We all had fun looking through the stores and running into people we knew, or had met at Machaneh Yehudah. We all found something for our family members, and when we met up with Noa when it was time to leave, we were all exhausted and ready to go to sleep, especially because tomorrow is such a busy day.

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Day 17

Friday July 12, 2013 ~ Dalia: Friday we woke up to the smell of cookies. We got out of bed and went downstairs to find breakfast and specially made Snickerdoodles for Miri. We ate breakfast and got ready for Jerusalem. We then headed on to the van and drove to Holon. We walked over to the blind museum and got our tickets to go in. We put our bags, cameras, watches and glasses in a locker. We gathered into a dimly lit room with two religious married couples. We were then each given a walking stick and were introduced to our guide who we later found out was visually impaired. We entered the blind museum, which was completely dark. The first room was a zoo it had trees and different smells and sounds that were easily identifiable. We talked about how when you lose the sense of sight it becomes important to listen to your surroundings to identify your location. We then went into an apartment and felt the furniture of the house. And then went for a boat ride identifying the surroundings by smell, sound and motion. Then we walked into a traffic area and it was loud and confusing. We were all trying to find each other and one of the guys walked up to Zoe thinking she was his wife. Tali was also tapped by the other man who thought she was a car and Tali set him straight. We went to a market and were able to identify it by being able to feel the fruits of the market. Afterwards we headed to the music room and listened to music. Then we went to the cafeteria but no one had money so we didn’t get anything and we talked about what we thought of the museum. In summary, we all felt appreciative for the ability to see and were amazed with the abilities of the people who are actually visually impaired. Coming out of the museum we learned that Madi had taken a few of the vegetables from the market. We asked the guide about it and they said that she could keep it. After the blind museum we took some time to play in the playgrounds nearby climbing the space ball and enjoying the swings. Then we drove to Jerusalem and came to Machaneh Yehudah. The sight of Machaneh Yehudah was immediately overwhelming. There were multiple tour groups shopping around Camp Koby, ILEAD, Mach Hach, Dorot (from Canada), Birthright, USY and maybe a few others. We got a chance to say many hellos because some of us knew a lot of the kids on the other programs. We were taken to Machaneh Yehudah and had the task of a scavenger hunt, lunch, and Shabbat-O-Gram gifts. We only completed 66% because we also had to take time for shopping, walking around in circles, and time to talk with the people we saw. We bought lunch and gifts for our friends and ourselves and talked to a lot of people. Afterwards we went to Beit Shmuel and settled ourselves in our room. We prepared for Shabbas and at 7:30 we headed to Shira Chadasha for Kabbalat Shabbat as nine people (the fab five, Noa, Rabbi, Aviva, and Saphira). The shul was packed with people there was barely any room to sit. It was a very nice service and afterwards we walked back to Beit Shmuel and had a three-course meal. After dinner we learned that the Rabbi would be leaving on Saturday night. Then we went upstairs and went to sleep.

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Day 16

Dalia ~ Thursday July 11, 2013

Note from Wed: Technically this morning at about 12am I found a jumping bug near my bed and I made Miri run to the other room to get Madi to kill the bug. Madi, Tali, and Zoe were about to fall asleep when Miri knocked on their door and it doesn’t seem like they will let us forget that. No worries Madi killed the bug and Zoe has a video for proof.

Today we woke up at 8am. Miri and I were privileged to have three wakeups: one from Aviva one from Tali and one from an iPod. We had a regular breakfast then we checked out of the hostel and drove to the cave of Bar Yochai. We went into the shul and davened Shacharit and we then left to drive to Akko. On the drive to Akko Tali and I found a bee sitting next to us. We yelled at Madi to come and kill the bee. It took a few tries but Madi succeeded and no one was stung. We went out to explore Akko and walked around the area. We went to the market and explored a few stores. Zoe found a pair of Genie pants that matched her green nails! We then walked to the shore and found a whale sculpture with Jonah inside of it. We asked him to move for a few minutes so that we could take a picture in it. We then found a lighthouse that wasn’t in use anymore and afterwards we drove to the next spot. We visited Rambam hospital, the biggest hospital in the north. We went up to the children’s floor and visited sick children. We gave out stuffed animals to the kids to comfort them and we talked to the parents trying to comfort them too. All of the kids were so nice and cute we really hope that they all heal soon. We then went downstairs to the mall to go find lunch. Miri had a plain frozen yogurt because there were no stores that were nut free. The rest of us had lunch at Aroma. We had a very interesting lunch the five of us made a Shidduch and if it works out we will have a wedding to go to in Israel. Basically Zoe wanted some chocolate (shocker) and we were debating how we would get it. We were saying we should ask the surgeon who was sitting next to the chocolate. It turned out the surgeon understood everything we were saying and passed Zoe the chocolate then the Tesslers began talking to him and we left. But Madi ran back to get his number and came back with it. Then Tali and I ran back to give him the Emergency contact card which had our Madricha’s phone number and we ran out of there laughing. We were laughing so much that some random woman yelled at us for being mental. When we all were on the bus we were laughing hysterically about what had just happened. In the moment Madi asked our bus driver Muchsan (who is Bedouin) if he knew any famous Bedouins because she knew one who had come to talk at her school. No one could stop laughing it was a very funny moment. Before driving to the horse-ranch we stopped at a market and picked up some strawberry yogurt for Miri. Then we drove to the horse-ranch. We were privileged to have a roller coaster ride driving into the ranch. We saddled up and got on our horses.  Teens from Sderot who suffer with trauma joined us on our horse ride.  With each horse following each other we rode to the beach. It was beautiful and for the most part calm. There wasn’t much chatter because everybody was focused on his or her horse. We then came back to the ranch to have a drum circle with the Sderot teens. Each kid received a drum and the instructor showed us a few beats and then we had some time to freestyle on the drums. After we all received different instruments such as a buffalo drum, an ocean drum, tambourines, and other types of drums we all played together and it was very nice. We then ate pizza and afterwards we boarded the buses. We drove back to Raanana and I had a chance to meet up with some family. Miri, Tali, Zoe, and Madi were able to learn with the Rabbi about Tisha Ba’v. We finished the learning we had been working on for Tisha Ba’v about the few stories of Tisha Ba’v. Afterwards Madi, Tali, Miri, and Zoe drew cards for who would shower and Madi broke the sink. It wasn’t her fault it just became clogged and the handle sort of fell out. But it was fixed and Saphira came over and we went to sleep.

 

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Day 15

Zoe ~ Today, we woke up normally (meaning that Tali woke us up and we all hated her for about ten minutes) and came down to eat breakfast which was amazing because there was chocolate spread, and we got on the bus on our way to the Galita chocolate factory. Now let me preface this by saying that I have always wondered what heaven looked like. You know, I always thought that there would be pillars, and harps, and choirs, and all of that fancy schmancy stuff, but no. That is not what it looks like. When you go to heaven, it will look eerily similar to the workshop room in the Galita chocolate factory. Basically, you walk in, and you are hit with the smell of chocolate. Kind of like Hershey Park, but a million times better. So that is the smell. Also when you walk in, you are surrounded by chocolate. Like seriously. On all four sides, there is chocolate. I think I actually started singing when I walked into the factory. Anyway, we watched a video on cocoa beans or something, but I really could not pay attention with all the chocolate going on around me. Chocolate can be really distracting. Anyway, we finished with the movie, and they gave us bowls of dark chocolate (that were solid and hollow), and then bowls of other chocolate (that were melted and were to be the filling or something. Again, I could not really pay attention because of all the chocolate). They told us to make truffles. They also told us that it was okay to eat the melted chocolate. So, as you may guess, most of the melted chocolate did not end up in the hollow bowls. Most of it was in my stomach and all over my face. Anyway, they took them away to cool, and then they gave us squirt bottles with chocolate. Pure chocolate. They said to use the bottles and make whatever we wanted on sheets of wax paper. Dalia made one of her name, Miri’s name (because we love her), and a happy birthday sign to her sister. Tali made one of a flower, and her name. Madi made three blobs because she wanted to maximize the amount of chocolate on her paper (a smart idea. But don’t worry. Aviva and Noa poured chocolate down my throat in the most loving way possible). Noa definitely made something that was wonderful, but I could not see over to that end of the table, and please. When there is chocolate in the equation (as I mentioned before) I really cannot focus when there is chocolate around. The Rabbi attempted to make a sweet little thing for Aviva that said Aviva, but it also ended up being a huge blob of chocolate that looked quite wonderful. I made so many things. I made a chocolate name for each member in my family and ate them on their behalf (you are welcome Natanya, Xander, Padre and Madre. Yes, those do count as your presents), I made a flower, a sun with sunglasses, lots of things about Israel and lots of blobs of chocolate. It was all quite fantastic. Miri was our official photographer and now has many fantastic pictures of me with an insane amount of chocolate on my face that I am worried that she will use as blackmail. Anyway, it was at that point that they took away our concoctions to cool and gave us back the bonbon/truffle things that we had been making, and this time, we were told to put them together and decorate them. They gave us four more bowls of chocolate, and then they also gave us all these toppings that we could put on. As you might guess, my bonbons/truffles could not really be located after I was done putting the chocolate all over them. Everyone else’s looked really good though. I think that Aviva should open a bonbon/truffle shop because hers looked really professional and pretty. Anyway, we all finished decorating and they took away the bonbon/truffle things to cool, and they let us explore the shop. It was really cool, mostly because there was literally chocolate everywhere. Anyway, we got the chocolate back, bade farewell to the chocolate factory (I will not comment on my emotional status as we departed the facility. All I will say is that there may or may not have been tears as we departed), and continued on our way to the biking place. When we got there, there was an executive decision made that it did not seem like such a good idea to be biking in the middle (meaning the hottest time of the day) of the hottest time of the year, so we decided to put the biking on hold and continue to the water hike. We got to the water hiking place, and started on the trail, which Noa told us was part of the trail that runs from all the way in the north of Israel to the south. She said that it takes about a month and a half to do the whole trail. I suggested we do it, but Noa said that we needed to be back at the biking place at a certain time, so unfortunately we could not. Spoilsport. Anyway, before actually getting in the water, there was a pool ish thing with a waterfall before the trail. Noa suggested we go in there to get all wet so that we would not be too hot on the trail. We all got in (it was a really shallow pool so it only went up to our knees) but it was really cold, so no one wanted to go under the waterfall and get all wet. Then, Miri said that she would get in if I did, so I said yes. However, before either of us could go in at the same time, she tried to push me under! Traitor! Naturally, the only response I could give was to splash her, so I did. This started an all out war (oddly enough the teams ended up being me and Miri versus Tali and Dalia. I don’t really know how that worked out. All I know is that once the water started flying, Madi jumped out of the pool and started taking pictures. Anyway, we were all thoroughly soaked and ready to depart when the rabbi decided to come in and join the fray. He came up from behind and started splashing us all. That restarted the war, with a new team that consisted of just the rabbi. Midway through the battle, Aviva tried to be sneaky and join in from behind, but Dalia and I spotted her and got her before she could get us. She quickly retreated. After a while, we could not help but notice that Noa was conspicuously not in the pool. We decided to rectify this by splashing her too. This did not work seeing as she was not in the aforementioned pool. This time it was us who retreated, mostly because she was out of reach. Anyway, we got out of the pool (finally) and started the hike which was really gorgeous and peaceful. We walked and walked and walked and walked, and got to the end. We were all hungry, and luckily we found a pizza place about seventeen feet from where the trail stopped, so we decided to eat there. By that time, all of us were dry, even though we had all been soaked to the skin a mere hour before. That is what the Israel sun will do to you, folks. We had a nice lunch and then continued on with the original plan of going biking. We got there pretty late, so there were not that good of a selection of bikes left, and me being me, of course I chose the most ancient bike there that only had one gear that I am convinced is the granny gear (that means that I have to pedal twice as hard to go the same distance as everyone else. It does not do wonders for your already aching muscles). Miri stayed behind with the rabbi and Aviva to learn to ride a bike, and by the end she was able to do it! We are all so proud of her. The rest of us started on the loop around the lake, and in the middle, we stopped in the bird observing place thing, and we learned about how 65 years ago, that whole place was a swamp, and the first settlers of the land had to do back breaking work to make it a habitable place so that 65 years later, someone like me could enjoy riding her bike in Israel. We continued on with the ride, my legs going on mutiny for putting them through this, and finished just in time for my legs to completely stop working, in what my mind was a strike. I attempted to walk my bike back to the stand, but it ended up being more staggering than walking. Anyway, we got back on the bus and headed for the hotel thing, and we had some time before dinner, so Noa, Miri, and I decided to have a quick dip in the Kineret. We had lifeguard Tali watching us so that we would not drown, and it was really nice because the water was fantabulous. We finished swimming and went for a four minute shower and then went for dinner. After dinner, we continued to learn the gemarah we had started on Monday night about Bar Kamtsa and the destruction of Jerusalem. It was very interesting and we had a discussion about whether (if we were the leaders of Jerusalem at this time) we would fight the Romans, or if we would try to make peace with them and why. We ended up deciding that there was no good answer, because either way there were huge drawbacks. Anyway, after our discussion, we all went to our rooms, and packed. Just as Tali, Madi and I were about to fall asleep, we got a knock at our door from Miri. Apparently, there was a giant jumping bug in their room, and they wanted it gone. We all went, but it was Madi who heroically got the bug in the end. We went back to our room to go to sleep, but once again, it was way past my bedtime. So sad.

 

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Day 14

Tuesday July 9  ~Tali : Today we didn’t have any unusual wake up, but Zoe did refuse to open her eyes until it was exactly 7:30.  We left Ra’anana at around 8:30 and went to Tzfat to paint a bomb shelter.  When we got there, we learned that the shelter had yet to be cleaned out and we didn’t think that we would be able to move any of the beds or mattresses that were stored down there since everything was considerably heavy.  Not minding a little extra work, we got started anyway. Before we knew it, pretty much the entire neighborhood was outside helping us clear out the room so that we could start painting it.  It didn’t take very long, but we had to wait a little before actually starting because there was dust everywhere.  There was an Ethiopian woman, Tazza who walked across the Sudan for an entire year before reaching Israel who taught us that pouring water on the floor would clear out some of the dust and soon we were able to start white-washing the walls.  Eventually we started to paint- Zoe and Madi drew flowers, Miri and the Rabbi drew a house with a Hasidic man and woman inside, Aviva drew a teddy bear, Dalia drew hearts on the floor, and Noa and I painted the railings on the wall.  In the end, we hand printed on wall and the shelter had a lot more color than it did before.  It was really nice because the people in the area could be stuck in a bomb shelter for hours of the day and there are many children who would be there too, so we wanted to make it look as nice as possible.  When we finished, the people living in the apartments near the shelter came out and told us thank you and how our willingness to help them was contagious.  They really appreciated what we did for them, especially because it is very possible that the shelter would have remained filled with the furniture for a lot more time had we not come and helped out.  They told us that what we did for them was really amazing and how the chesed we did in person means a lot more because it was more personal than a letter expressing concern.  They gave us each a cup with a candle and a tehillim in it with a quote from Rav Kook that stated that each person had a flame inside them and it is their job to take that flame and share it with the world.  Before leaving Tzfat, we went to eat some falafel for lunch.  Rabbi Tessler told the man making them that I like mine a little spicy and so the man assumed that he did as well and kept adding spices to it.  In the end though it turned out to be really good so all was well.  The next stop was rafting down the Jordan River.  We separated ourselves between three rafts; Dalia, Miri, and Noa, Rabbi Tessler and Aviva, and me, Zoe, and Madi.  My boat was up ahead the entire time until we got near the end when we let the other two boats catch up.  We began a splash fight with Dalia, Miri, and Noa for a little bit and Madi got out to swim for a little bit.  Two minutes before getting out of the boat, Zoe pushed me into the water and then helped me back in soon after.  Well, I wanted to push her in as revenge but she didn’t really give me any opportunity to do so.  We settled this with a compromise in which she had to jump into the water and get her hair wet, making it look like she was either pushed in or fell in all on her own.  I pulled her back in, but we faced some troubles when both of our hands were stuck under us, so we both kicked our feet in hopes that somehow it would lift us up.  The staff was on the beach looking at us like we were a bunch of crazy Americans, so when we finally got up, we rushed out of the raft.  After changing into clean, dry clothing, we went on the bus for a 40-minute ride to Karei Deshe, the youth hostel we are staying at.  It felt a lot shorter since we were all entertained by Dalia’s jokes about Wan, the gingerbread man, and lobsters.  We all ate dinner and then Noa took the Fab Five outside to talk and play cards before we all went to sleep.

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Day 13

Monday – Miri ~ This morning Aviva woke us up, however when her attempt to get us out of bed failed, she said, “So much for the positive reinforcement,” and suddenly construction workers came in and started hammering into the tiles. Needless to say, this got all of us out of the room pretty quickly.  Because it was Rosh Chodesh, we davened and sang Hallel together.  We ate a festive Rosh Chodesh breakfast and then drove to Bet Elezraki, a home for children at risk. We met Yehuda Kohen, the director of the home and he explained the history of the home to us. Today there are about 250 children in the home, and Kohen and his wife act as the parents of the kids even after they leave the home, which includes paying for their college tuition and attending their weddings. Afterwards we watched the choir perform a Hebrew and English song and then we went nearby the beach to make and fly kites. Although only a few managed to keep their kites in the air, everyone had a great time. After lunch, which we ate in Bet Elezraki, we traveled to Atlit. After World War Two, many Jews tried to find refuge in Palestine via walking, airplane, or by boat. However, the British, who were in control of Palestine, put a quota on the amount of Jews allowed in, and the ones who illegally tried to enter Israel were either sent back to their country of origin or sent to a detainment camp.  Atlit was a detainment camp before the establishment of Israel as a Jewish State in 1948.  We saw bunkers in which people slept and watched videos about the Jews attempting to enter Palestine. We also went on a ship similar to one that refugees traveled on. After we finished our tour, we drove to Caesaria, a port city built by the Roman King Herod. It was eventually destroyed, but what is left of it still remains to be beautiful. We walked around the area for a little while, and after taking several pictures in the magnificent amphitheater, we returned to the van to go back to the Tesslers’ house. However, when we were almost there, Noa announced that the winners of yesterday’s scavenger hunt (Dalia, Zoe, and Madi) would be receiving their prize. Rabbi Tessler said that they could choose to share it with the team that did not win, that being Tali and me. They decided to share it and Aviva told us to close our eyes. We walked off the bus and when we opened our eyes we discovered what the surprise was: manicures! We were all very excited and eager to pick what color we would be using. After we were all done, we walked back to the Tesslers’ and ate dinner, including shoko bisakit, which everyone, especially Noa, was happy about. Afterwards we went to pack up for our trip to Tzfat tomorrow, but suddenly we heard Madi and Zoe start screaming in the basement. I went downstairs and saw a giant cockroach being chased by Zoe and Madi.  Zoe trapped it in a cup and brought it upstairs and Madi let it loose outside while Tali and Dalia stayed upstairs, not wanting to come near the bug. While all this was happening, Rabbi and Aviva remained in their bedroom, most likely laughing at us. After the bug was removed from the house and everyone calmed down, we learned some Gemara with Rabbi Tessler. Since the nine days are about to start, Rabbi Tessler chose the Gemara about the incident involving Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which caused the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash. The days known as the “nine days” are the nine days before Tisha B’av, which commemorates when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. After we finished learning, we talked about leadership and then went upstairs to finish packing. We were told to go to sleep early because tomorrow we have a very busy day, including going up north to paint a shelter and go rafting, which we are all very excited about.

 

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